Rev. Joseph F. Duggan
December 29th, 2013

Rev. Joe wants you to hear and process the following points in his sermon:

  • Light, Spirit and Power are the gifts of God for all people proclaimed in John’s Prologue!  Nobody, nobody may take away that which God gives all humanity.
  • The churches of the Anglican Communion have not always been instruments of Light, Spirit and Power but rather have oppressed and colonized people, calling them dark, Spirit-less savages, powerless who need to be controlled and civilized before they are converted.
  • The Gospel calls all of us to be instruments of Light, Spirit and Power.  When we have fully entered into God’s majesty than we with the entire church will be a postcolonial church.

Spirit of the Living God Fall Fresh On Us!  Repeat!

In the opening collect we heard, “Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word.”

In the Gospel we heard, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” and  “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

Through the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God we have received the gifts of Light, Spirit and Power. Jesus came into the world to instill in us the Light, Spirit and Power of God. Christ within us is a central doctrine of our Anglican faith and spirituality as Episcopalians. This central doctrine of our faith is the doctrine of the incarnation.

God’s act of sending his Son Jesus to dwell among us, and in us, is the central act of incarnation. Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961 to 1974 wrote that, ”The Incarnation meant not only that God took human flesh, but that human nature was raised up to share in the life of God.” All humanity shares in the life of God and nobody, nobody may take away what God has given.

We Anglicans have not always lived up to our responsibilities to nurture what God has freely bestowed upon all humanity.

Many of you have asked about my work as a postcolonial theologian. My work resonates with today’s Gospel. In my work as a postcolonial theologian, I am attentive to the ways that Africa, Asia and South America have suffered under colonialism and the weight of the British Empire through the Church of England’s missionary efforts. As a postcolonial theologian, I am interested in the way you and I live with all our brother and sister Anglicans after colonialism.

And who are our brother and sister Anglicans? These Anglicans live in nations who gained their independence from the British Empire at different times.  The United States gained our independence in 1776. India gained their independence in 1947. Hong Kong gained their independence in 1997. Listen to some of the nations of Africa and when they gained their independence:

Liberia in 1847

Ethiopia in 1944

Ghana in 1957

Botswana in 1966

Angola in 1975

South Sudan in 2011 – Yes it is very meaningful to understand the timing of independence to appreciate, the news of violence we hear daily through another lens.

The Anglican missionaries were just getting started in their missionary work under the British Empire’s colonial rule when America gained its independence. The Society of the Propagation of the Gospel was a significant undertaking of the Church of England. The Society supported the work of missionaries throughout the British Empire. Often it has been said that the missionaries had nothing to do with colonialism and the British Empire’s political project. The Anglican missionaries have claimed that they were just preaching the Gospel. Well, that is not really the whole truth.

Colonialism is when one nation enters another nation, or “conquers without invitation.” The people of Malawi actually invited the British missionaries to help with their indigenous churches. More often, indigenous churches in Africa, Asia and South America did not invite the Church of England. The missionaries came and taught the Gospel. With the Gospel came other less well known teachings that became known as colonial theologies.

For a glimpse of these theologies, I suggest you read Rowan Strong, the Australian Anglican historian’s relatively recent book called Anglicanism and The British Empire. To write his book Strong read over one hundred years of Society of the Propagation of the Gospel annual dinner meeting speeches. These dinners were held every year beginning in the early 1700’s and meeting through the early 1900’s.  The Society was the primary infrastructure behind colonial Anglicanism. The annual speeches are filled with descriptions of indigenous people. Unlike the theology of the incarnation that infuses Light, Spirit and Power into all humanity, the colonial missionaries and the British Empire described other nations and their peoples as lost, dark, Spirit-less and powerless savages!

Light, Spirit and Power was for all God’s people. Humanity rewrote the scriptures and redirected God’s love of all to the love of a few. Colonizers questioned the humanity of some peoples. Conversion began with a process of civilization. The process of civilization was to make all people around the world speak English. The standard for civilized society was British society.

I am told that in parts of Africa people still sing English hymns that make no sense to their native context. African Anglican churches are just beginning to write their own hymns in their language and style. In contrast, the Jesuit missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church always spoke the language of the people and priests wore their indigenous dress as their vestments.

Many theologians rightfully resist the word postcolonial because there are still many ongoing signs of colonialism around the world and even in our own beloved Episcopal Church. When we dehumanize others and take from human persons their God given gifts of Light, Spirit and Power we participate in the colonization of others.

I describe all my work now as de-colonial ministry. Through my de-colonial ministries I seek to restore all humanity with God’s Light, Spirit and Power. Through our freedoms as Americans we have the power to choose our own religion. We are a diverse nation of many cultures and religions.

Living with diversity is a daily blessing and also a challenge. Diversity is a blessing because of the democratic freedoms we enjoy. Diversity is a challenge because we live with an uneasy and imperfect unity. In a land of diversity we must always find grace-filled ways to honor the Light, Spirit and Power infused in others.

The colonizers made a very serious mistake. The colonizers thought that their role was to bring Light, Spirit and Power to all the nations of the world. The missionary role then and now is to minister to the Light, Spirit and Power already present. We nurture the Light, Spirit and Power. God is responsible for where the Light, Spirit and Power blossom and where it does not blossom.

We are empowered to minister and bless the Light, Spirit and Power of all humanity. Blessing has no room for condemnation. We should be very slow to condemn any person for when we do so we condemn not only the person but also God’s Light, Spirit and Power.

We have enough work to nurture and grow our Light, Spirit and Power so that we in the Spirit of Saint Francis Church may be instruments of peace in our world. Where there is hatred let us sow your love. In sowing love we will strengthen and multiply the Light, Spirit and Power of God. As we begin a new year let us commit to one another that we will be ministers who multiply the Light, Spirit and Power of God.

I am not the first priest ever to preach to the people of Saint Francis Church about being instruments of peace. I probably am the first priest to preach about postcolonial theology and de-colonial ministries. Until I came to Saint Francis Church I thought that postcolonial theology was that work I did on my days when I am not busy as your parish priest. I have learned over the last year that I am one priest with one work and one ministry for this parish and the entire church.

My work as a grassroots activist for Congregational Seasons calls all congregations to be vital, viable and sustainable through the work of de-colonial ministry.

My work as a postcolonial activist through Postcolonial Networks allies with people in Africa, Asia and South America to have their narrative versions of colonialism written — and this work is a de-colonial ministry.

My work is not the work of an odd scholar’s whose books are read by a few and otherwise ignored on library shelves.  Our work and the de-colonial work of this congregation and the entire church is to restore all humanity to their God-given Light, Spirit and Power.

De-colonial ministry changes everything about who we are as a church and the way we live and do church.

De-colonial ministry changes our relationship to our church buildings. The only purpose for church buildings is to do effective ministry. Buildings are not places to store up treasures and gloat about our sacred power. If the buildings are not about mission and ministry, then lets sell the buildings and give the money to the poor.

De-colonial ministry changes our relationship to governance. Since last General Convention The Episcopal Church has had an important committee on the church’s structure. The committee is made up of scores of church leaders. Structure is important but in the postcolonial church structure serves mission. Mission comes first.

De-colonial ministry changes our relationship to theology. Theology is not for the few but for all. John’s Prologue is a postcolonial Gospel that points to God’s vision that predates all colonialism. Postcolonial theology has often been mistaken as a liberal and progressive theology. If postcolonial theology is a liberal, progressive theology then many who are not liberal or progressive could ignore postcolonial theology. The Christian Church and in particular all member churches of the Anglican Communion cannot ignore postcolonial theologies. We too often have ignored postcolonial theologies and we have ignored them at our own peril as we continue to withdraw the Light, Spirit and Power from some with whom we do not disagree and otherwise oppress and marginalize.

Nobody, nobody can take the Light, Spirit and Power of God away from any of God’s beloved, from any of humanity, not the least, nobody.

De-colonial ministry changes our relationship to church history.  There have been woefully few conversations about our Anglican and Episcopal churches’ participation in colonialism.  Our knowledge of postcolonial theologies is far more advanced than our knowledge of oppression and the way our churches have participated in the colonial project. Our parochial shame runs so deep that our desire to know the stories of the colonized has been muted. We all need to listen to the stories of the colonized and choose to become a postcolonial church with postcolonial theologies, governance, mission and ministries. The choice remains to be made.

To become a postcolonial church all our work must be about the restoration of Light, Spirit and Power of God, the gifts all have been given.

To become a postcolonial church we must let go of the idols we have made when we claim to be the Light, Spirit and Power over others.

To become a postcolonial church we must bow down before the Light, Spirit and Power and become servants of God’s majesty not our own power and majesty.

When we restore all humanity to its unique and distinctive Light, Spirit and Power then the world will reflect divine unity and not the violent unity of uniformity mastered by colonizers. But not so easy because today churches, nations and many other communities continue to be fascinated by unity as uniformity and as a result colonize rather than liberate humanity. To restore others to the Light, Spirit and Power we must nurture Light, Spirit and Power in ourselves and as we do so, we will then become instruments of peace.  Let us be instruments of peace and grace in this congregation, the communities of our surrounding neighborhoods, the whole church, the Anglican Communion and world.

God Bless You!

Rev. Joe

You can read the sermon on the website of Saint Francis Episcopal Church, Fair Oaks.

Click here to hear the sermon. Note that the audio version contains material that is not reproduced in the text above, which is not a transcription.