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Posts from the ‘Culture’ Category


The Struggle for the Equal Rights of Women in the Church of North India

Revd. Sonal Christian, lecturer in Old Testament, Gujarat United School of Theology Ahmedabad, Gujarat, describes the place of Women in the CNI and suggest that an Indaba process might encourage better participation for both men and women in the Church. 


Women and men have coexisted since their creation by God. In the creation account itself we are told that the Lord intended equality when God created them in His own image as male and female (Gen.1:27). After the fall this equality was lost, but it was re-established by Jesus on the cross as he died for all human beings irrespective of any barriers. Read more »


Conflict Resolution Approach, Ghana

The Rt. Revd Matthias K. Medadues-Badohu, Anglican Bishop of Ho, reflects on conflict resolution approaches in Ghana in relation to Continuing Indaba. 


Life is relational.  We relate with one another to have our needs met and our desires fulfilled.  As John Donne (1572–1631) would put it, “No man is an island entire of itself”. Human nature and the human condition require that we depend on others for survival and satisfaction of our individual needs. Read more »

Rev. Dr. Sammy Githuku

Conflict and African Spirituality: Agĩkũyũ Perspective

Rev. Dr. Sammy Githuku, Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at St Paul’s University, Limuru, reflects on conflict following the 2007 Kenyan elections. 

Human blood is heavy, and hinders the one who has shed it from fleeing. — a Sotho proverb Read more »


Njung’wa Theology

Ven. Dr. Ndung’u Ikenye, Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Theology at St Paul’s University – Limuru, introduces a Kikuyu system for conversation and healing of community.


Njung’wa is a four-legged or four-footed Kikuyu stool which was traditionally used by Kikuyu male elders. Each elder took his stool to the elders meeting, “carried by important elders.”[1] The stool represented ethnic and cultural authority, respect and integrity given to the elders. Read more »


In from the Margins

The Rt. Rev. Probal Kanto Dutta, Bishop of the Diocese of Durgapur in the Church of North India, reflects on the struggle for equal rights for Dalits and Tribals in The Church of North India.   


There is a conspiracy of silence against the majority population in India, the Dalits and the Tribals, who in various ways have been left aside. This has resulted in apathy that alienates these groups and virtually eradicates them from the consciousness of the wider society. This paper presents an understanding of Tribals and Dalits and their present status in the Indian context. Read more »


Living church after the fall: A Canadian case study

The Rev. Dr. Fletcher examines Anglicanism’s historical theological methodology that gave birth to the practice of contextualizing theological discourse in dialogue with Scripture, tradition and reason.  She then examines the theological learning of the Anglican Church of Canada from their interaction with the survivors of the residential school experiment with Canada’s First Nations peoples and subsequent realization that those peoples needed to contextualize their experience of church to overcome the pervasive aura of colonialism they had experienced for generations.  In the struggle to integrate what we have received from the past and the changing world in which we live hearts and minds can be transformed;  that struggle is the manifestation of our hope. Read more »


Liturgy and Inculturation in the Caribbean

Canon Dr. Knolly D. Clarke, from the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago, reflects on the connections between theology, culture, liturgy and the Incarnation. 


This paper seeks to identify some fundamental issues and challenges relating to integrating and assimilating the Caribbean liturgy and worship experience. Inculturation of Liturgy is a concept which seeks to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of transforming and making relevant the Anglican Liturgy to Caribbean peoples of God. Read more »


The Church of North India: Unity’s Fruit in a Struggle Unfinished

The Revd. Sunil Michael Caleb, Ph.D. is Principal of Bishop’s College, Kolkata, India, describes the Church of North India’s continuing  journey towards unity Read more »


The “Old Lady” Model of Dispute Resolution

The Venerable Paul Shaibu Katampu of St. Nicholas Seminary, Cape Coast describes his dream for the Anglican Communion and offers some advice from the Ghanaian old lady principle.


Like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream.  A dream that the Anglican Communion will stand more united than it has ever been.  I have a dream that unity in diversity will become more of a reality than a catch word in the vocabulary of members of the Communion. Read more »


Under the Banyan Tree

Ms. Sushma Ramswami, Communication Secretary, Synod of the Church of North India and Vice President, National Council of Churches in India suggests some Indian analogues to Indaba

Kulta, nalayak, kahan ka paap hai yeh” (stupid, idiot, blot on the family, whose sin is it?).

These were the screams coming out of a house in Ratanjuli Cluster situated 34 kilometres away from Tezpur in Assam, a state in the northeast of India.  People from the area, including both Hindus and Christians, surrounded the house to find out what the matter was.  On probe it was found that Anjali, a member of the family, had locked herself in a room and had not come out of it for two days.  On probing further, the villagers found that she had been carrying a child for six months.  Since being an unwed mother bears a stigma, the boy she had been seeing had taken her for an abortion. As the baby was six months old, the doctor refused to perform the procedure, so they went to a private pharmacy, where she was given a medicine that caused the baby to die inside her womb.  Terrible pain and shame forced her to remain inside the room.

In the evening, as is customary, the male members of the village gathered under a banyan tree to discuss matters pertaining to the good of the village.  Anjali’s matter was discussed at length, and it was decided that some of the elders from the village would approach the boy, who was working in a neighboring tea garden.  When he did not listen to them they complained to the garden’s manager and asked him to suspend the boy.  After hearing the story the manager took immediate action and suspended the culprit.  Necessary arrangements for the girl’s treatment in the civil hospital were also made.

The matter did not end here, for the villagers were concerned about the future of Anjali.  A meeting of the villagers was called to finalize the matter with the panchayat (local governance committee), labor union of the garden and local leaders.  After discussing the matter thoroughly the villagers exhorted the boy to accept the girl as his wife and to arrange for proper treatment until she completely recovered.  They also told the boy that if they found negligence in the treatment or anything else, legal action would be taken against him.  Also, once the girl recovered, the boy had to have the marriage performed legally and produce a copy of the marriage certificate to the villagers.  The guardian of the boy also accepted the resolution put by the villagers.  Thus a life which could have been destroyed by fighting a case in court was settled through discussion under a banyan tree.  This is an example of Indian Indaba.

Forums for Consultation and Decision-Making in India

The word Indaba is new in the Indian context, but for the African context it is not.  In southern Africa it is a familiar term and a popular concept.  It communicates a mode of interaction with sense and sensitivity.

When we try to unfold the nature of Indaba, we discover that it resembles several models of group interaction in the Indian context.  In Bengal, for instance, addaa designates an informal discussion in a group.  Students in universities sometimes have felt included in deliberations only if they were in an addaa, which may have a less formalized agenda than an Indaba.  In other parts of the country, however, an addaa has the connotation of a drinking society.

In Punjab, in the northwest of India, people often gather on manji, or rope cots, under a banyan tree to discuss matters of common interest.  There the meeting is called manji, and there are similar gatherings in other areas of the country, though under different names. Such meetings are often male-dominated.  While the men are meeting and discussing issues pertaining to individuals, families and the community at large, the women folk are expected to be doing their family chores, cooking and the like. In the central Indian state of Maharashtra, however, women also participate.

In Maharashtra, sabha is another important model of group deliberation and decision-making, but it has a much more formal and legislative connotation.  For instance, the two houses of Parliament in India are called the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha (similar to the House of Commons and House of Lords in Britain).  At the local level, the panchayat, or village council of elders and other leaders, typically has a similarly formal decision-making function.  Of late, women have emerged as winners in panchayat elections and often hold decision-making positions.

The Nature of Indaba

There seems to be no formal term in English that can communicate the meaning and message of Indaba.  Although the term Indaba may be alien to the Indian context, its concept and sense are not, and in the Indian context we can understand what it is about.

Indaba is:

• Sharing on a topic/and or an issue in an informal get-together, where age and sex, and even number hardly matter.

• Encouraging and sometimes instigating others to take part in the sharing or discussion, so that gradually everyone shares and/or talks.

• Giving up the initial hesitation to talk, and gathering momentum to be part of the whole discussion.

• Honoring others’ views more than one’s own.

• Finding time to reflect retrospectively, which often leads to confession and paves the way for reconciliation and growth.

• Inspiring people to develop the skill of listening and learning from each other.

• Developing an understanding of where there is agreement and where there is disagreement.

• Drawing no formal conclusion or resolution of the sharing/reflection/discussion, and yet finding everyone satisfied.

Seventy-five percent of India is rural, and the concept behind Indaba exists in the form of meetings under the banyan tree, where matters pertaining to the lives of people living in the area are discussed.  Such gatherings have the spirit and the value of cooperation and trust to take decisions collectively and resolve conflicts between communities.  This is evident in the stories below, which illustrate how such gatherings inculcate feelings of togetherness and trust that can bring healing.

The Nanegaon Dalits’ Fight for Their Graveyard

The life of India’s outcastes, commonly called Dalits, is full of struggle.  Typically they work hard at very low wages to make ends meet in order to ensure their survival.  In this instance, Dalits who were Christian converts also had to struggle to ensure that after death they too could rest in peace, possible only if they could be buried with dignity in the land that was theirs.  A socio-economically weak group of people had to fight to reclaim their land, which was being encroached upon by the dominating class.

Nanegaon is a small village in Jalna district, about 52 kilometres from Aurangabad in Maharashtra.  Nanegaon houses about 100 Dalit Christian families who come from the Maatan, or Maang, community, which has been residing in the area for three generations.  Historically, the Maatan were looked down upon as outcastes and were forced to do lowly jobs like sweeping and scavenging.  They also supported themselves by broom-making and rope-weaving.

Today the picture has not changed much, for the Maatan Dalits still live in poor conditions, deprived of many amenities.  They are landless laborers who earn daily wages by working in neighboring farms and factories.  When work opportunities decline in their villages many are forced to migrate to towns and cities in search of livelihood.  Due to the apathy of the government and its policies, such communities have remained at the periphery of society.  Yet in spite of all hardships, these communities have remained devout in their faith and have pulled together in facing the challenges of life.

Some 150 years ago, the missionaries who started work in the Nanegaon area bought a piece of land out of which 3.5 acres was kept as a burial ground.  Over time its ownership passed to the local Dalit Christian community.  A couple of years back the dominating classes in the village started impinging on the property and gradually grabbed most of the land, for there was no boundary wall.  The Dalits were left with a mere one acre of land, and that too was being eyed by others.  The Dalits found it difficult to protest because they depended on the the influential higher-caste people for their livelihoods, and they could not match their power.

The Dalit Christian community sat together and discussed various options to solve the problem.  They realized that socio-economically they were at a disadvantage, for their livelihoods depended on the upper-caste people.  They also believed that confrontation would not be effective because they were few in number. So with a rights-based perspective, they went into a thoughtful process of uniting and sensitizing the entire community, creating awareness of the right to a dignified life.  Members were encouraged to wage a peaceful protest against the oppression and anarchy they were experiencing.

This community organization resulted in mobilizing a movement for the common cause.  To claim back their land that had been forcibly taken, all Dalits together approached the local government machinery.  They procured copies of government records and other documents that designated the exact area and proved their ownership of the land.  Proceeding in a legal manner, they succeeded in ending the encroachment on their land.  They also managed to get an official order to construct a boundary wall, as this would protect their land from further encroachment.

The results were not quick and the process was not easy, but over a period of time their Do No Harm approach enabled them to reclaim their land.  Head-on clashes would not have yielded results, but a series of talks to convince the encroachers to give back land bore positive fruit.  The community took the legal route to prove their ownership over the area and made the dominating class realize that their demand was just.  Thus, they managed to maintain good relations with the other class and safeguarded their livelihood.

Restoring the Pannasi  Water Supply

A long time back in the Bhandara District of Maharashtra, in central India, in an area included in the CNI Diocese of Nagpur, Pannasi village was carved out of Minsi village.  It houses all Shende families, and they are Mali (horticulturists) by caste and occupation.  In the beginning, a couple of families relocated themselves from Minsi and started residing on a hillside, cultivating the land for floriculture.  As time passed, more families joined them, and gradually the number of families reached fifty.  It was then that it became the separate entity known as Pannasi, for in Marathi, pannas means fifty.

Including Pannasi, there are three villages under Minsi Gram Panchayat, and they all get their water supply from Minsi.  (A gram panchayat serves at the village level whereas a nagar panchayat serves a city.) In May 2008, Pannasi’s water was stopped.  Some of the villagers went to the gram panchayat and enquired about it.  They were told that the pipeline was closed for maintenance and that the supply would resume soon.  Months passed, but nothing was done and the severity of the water problem increased.  Women from Pannasi walked daily a distance of 3-4 kilometers to fetch the pots of water they needed for their households.  Some of the villagers used bullock-carts, bicycles and motorbikes to transport water.

In March 2009, Manav Haqq Sangharsh Samiti (MHSS, meaning Human Rights Committee) a people’s organization and partner of the Nagpur Diocesan Board of Social Services in the Church of North India, started its intervention in the area.  While interacting with the community members, the MHSS members realized the acute water problem that people were facing for months at a time.  When they tried to find the root cause of this problem, they learned that the water supply was deliberately cut by Minsi because it felt the Minsi locals were not getting enough supply.  MHSS tried to reason and solve the problem amicably by bringing together communities from both villages, but it did not work out.

The representatives from Pannasi in Minsi’s gram panchayat could not do much to restart the supply.  The local governing system had a strong hold of Teli (oil merchants) and Kunbi (landlords) communities which are considered to be high castes.  They dominated the proceedings in the general meeting and sidelined the Pannasi issue.

MHSS mobilized the community in Pannasi and empowered them to unite to acquire their right to water.  There were some people in Pannasi who were indifferent to the process, and their involvement was casual.  They thought they would benefit even if they did not participate actively in the struggle.  But the MHSS brought the Pannasi residents together and led them in their struggle, guiding them to take this matter to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bhandara District. The villagers in large numbers went to the District Office.  The CEO promptly responded to the people’s appeal and asked the concerned department to take necessary action.  Minsi Gram Panchayat was also directed to cooperate.

In the first week of July 2009, mechanized crews reached Pannasi village and began the maintenance work on the water system.  Within a month the water supply was restored.  In order to strengthen the village’s position in the gram panchayat, Pannasi village plans to prepare more Mali members to serve as their representatives in the local governance system.  To establish a bond with other villagers they plan to have common celebrations of religious festivals, initiate and organize cultural programmes and build trust so that they can participate in each other’s social and political struggles. It is also thought that one common water scheme for all the villages would maintain harmony.

With the help of the elders at the sabha, the community in Pannasi was empowered to unite to acquire their right to water.

Indaba in the Bible

If people getting together to share joys and sorrows, excitement and frustration, memories of yesteryear and plans for the tomorrow are the main focus of Indaba, then there are ample references to Indaba-type consultations in the Bible.  Certain biblical narratives can be considered in the category of Indaba if examined carefully.  For example, the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) provides evidence for a kind of Indaba.  Genesis 11:1-4 suggests that the people of the whole world were part of an Indaba as they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens.”  They moved together, they talked together, they planned together and then they took a decision together for what they considered their wellbeing.   This “good” was to retain their name and identity: “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

There is a trace of another Indaba in the succeeding verses, Genesis 11:5-7.  Here we find God in a divine Indaba in which God speaks as a plural person: “Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Here God, depicted as a plurality, talked and took a decision against the human Indaba.  In this story the divine Indaba can be identified as a counter-Indaba to that of the humans.  The divine Indaba superseded the human Indaba, and thus the human Indaba faltered (Genesis 11:8-9).

The New Testament provides examples of people coming together to sort out issues. Acts 15 provides the story of the Jerusalem Council, which was held chiefly because Christian Hellenists in Antioch had baptized uncircumcised Gentiles, and because other Christians (the mainly Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians in Jerusalem) believed that was wrong. But the disagreement was not only about circumcision.  They were debating whether Gentiles had to adopt Jewish customs before being baptized.  Jewish Christians believed it was right to impose their own customs and culture on the Gentile Christians.  This is a mistake which some missionaries of all nations have made and are still making.

Another example is found in the various accounts of Jesus’ last night with his disciples in the four gospels.  The act of giving and serving is stressed. Jesus is the leader but he acts in vulnerability: he offers his body and blood for the disciples and for the life of the world.  He lets Judas go, although he knows betrayal is at hand. He washes the disciples’ feet. Jesus shares his anguish with the disciples in various ways.  They confer about who the betrayer might be, and Peter professes his undying loyalty.  Jesus prays for the disciples.  Was this Indaba successful? Well, it certainly bequeathed to us the Eucharist that is at the heart of our worship life, and Jesus’ prayer is a permanent gift about what it means to be “in Christ”.  On the other hand, it did not prevent the disciples from scattering shortly thereafter.  Like any Indaba, its record was mixed!

The Listening Cell in the Church of North India

The Indian analogues to Indaba that have been cited arise from the historically rural context of life in India.  Yet India is becoming increasingly urban, with Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai qualifying as megalopolises on a global scale and many smaller cities have several million inhabitants.  In this environment it is important that urban Christians develop patterns of common life that both draw on traditional patterns and respond to urban realities.

On the above premise, after becoming Moderator of the Church of North India in 2006 the Most. Revd. Joel V. Mal presented his address at the first CNI Executive Committee (the senior executive body of CNI), and it was received with deep appreciation. The address generated discussion and noted the following points:

  • That the Church Union was achieved and inaugurated on 29November 1970 is a gift from God:
  • Despite trials and tribulations during this long united journey for 35 years, it was acknowledged that the journey has been rich and vibrant and God was with us.
  • For the onward journey to be smooth the Church needs to get back to the basics and be always ready, like soldiers in barracks—fully prepared.
  • Before we engage in our journey together we need to find out together what is ailing us and what it ailing others, and then find medicine for that.  It is going to be difficult and painful to be honest with ourselves, others and God, but there is no other way.
  • The Church of North India as it is here and now should proceed to look at itself critically.  This self-examination will help all to participate more fully in the church’s life and work.

After much discussion it was decided to establish a “Listening Cell” at the church-wide synod level.

Salient among its terms of reference were:

  • It shall endeavor to undertake a process of introspection to address issues that are hindering the growth and development of the life and work of the church.
  • It shall facilitate listening to the voice of the people of the CNI and create space for understanding, fellowship and reconciliation.
  • It shall examine matters of conflict in order to decide whether there is any possibility for negotiation and reconciliation.
  • The Listening Cell shall function within a time frame and submit periodic reports on the outcome of its work to the Executive Committee.
  • While dealing with matters pertaining to a diocese, it shall make efforts to visit the diocese involved and talk to the people concerned.

The Listening Cell had just one meeting, at which many grievances were shared by members of congregations and by one staff member of a synodical board. However, the Listening Cell did not see the light of another meeting and the effort lapsed, essentially because the criticisms that were voiced were considered too sensitive and volatile.  In this situation we see that the church had the vision and courage to launch an Indaba-type effort, but it had not developed internal mechanisms of trusting responses to handle what the consultation process might bring to light.


This reflection has recounted several instances in which Indian Christians have activated indigenous models of consultation and decision-making in situations of personal and socio-economic conflict, both within their communities and with other communities.  A particular instance of church-wide listening and consultation has also been narrated.  The study has cited conceptual models from within Indian society that are analogous to the practice of Indaba, and biblical instances of Indaba-like consultations have been explored.

The challenging question before us as the Church of North India is this: Are we a listening church, or have we over time become chiefly a bureaucratic multinational organization?  Seen as the mission of Christ, the church is for the people, of the people and by the people.  While the Lord’s command remains a top priority for members of rural congregations in India, we in the urban setting seem to be preoccupied with bureaucratic realities.  If people in rural congregations can sit together and sort matters out, why can’t we at the national level have the spirit of reconciliation to try and build a just and peaceful society?


1Case studies in this essay are drawn from the experience of the CNI Synodical Board of Social Services.

2Minutes of the 77th Meeting of the CNI Executive Committee, held 7-8 February 2006.


Harmony ‘Hé’ [和] Theology

Frankie Lee draws together the thoughts of the Hong Kong Hub during their conversation at Hong Kong Ming Hua Theological College and later over Facebook and email.

During the summer of 2010 a group of Anglicans in Hong Kong, lay and ordained, were asked to consider ways in which Chinese people resolve conflicts, and by doing so, to offer ideas of resolving conflicts to the wider Communion. Over two nights of inspiring discussion at Hong Kong Ming Hua Theological College, we have learned a lot from each other, all of us having come from the three different dioceses of the Province of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (HKSKH). All of us generally agree that there is much to be learned from the classical Chinese word/philosophy of ‘Hé’ (和), whose concept is heavily influenced by Confucian and Taoist teachings.  While the Chinese character ‘Hé’ (和) has normally been translated and understood as the notion of ‘harmony’, this word/philosophy carries a much deeper and richer connotation rooted in Chinese culture.

For us, ‘Hé’ plays an vital part in Chinese thinking and in solving conflicts, and we have mentioned some  well-known Chinese phrases, all of which include this particular Chinese character (和) to help illustrate the profound meaning and philosophy of ‘Hé’ (和). For instance, we stress that ‘Hé’ is precious’ (以和為貴), and the need to treat everybody and everything with ‘a quiet mind and a peaceful disposition’ (心平氣和). Some of us also recall the age-old saying that: ‘Prosperity is born out of a household in “He”/harmony’ (家和萬事興). Generally, the concept of ‘Hé’ speaks of the forbearance (‘Ren’, 忍) and suppression of personal goals in favour of the Common Good. Nevertheless, it is worth stressing that this is not to suggest that ‘Hé’ is equated to conflict avoidance, or the suppression of differing views or voices to maintain peace and harmony. Rather, the classical understanding of ‘Hé’, heavily influenced by Taoist and Confucian teachings, does allow room for disagreement and honest discussion. For instance, Confucius is recorded saying that: ‘the gentleman agrees with others without being mere resonance; the mean man resonates even if he does not agree.’ (The Analects Confucius quoted Zi Lu, 君子和而不同, 小人同而不和₀ «論語· 子路第十三») For Confucius, it is important, and is indeed possible, to maintain a peaceful and harmonious (’Hé’) relationship while there are disagreements. If people only seek pragmatic and easy solutions by echoing each other’s views, while secretly disagreeing, this is not true ‘Hé’ because misunderstandings and tension still exist.

While ‘outward’ agreement and compromise may lead to short-term peace, it is neither true peace nor a way of maintaining long-term stability and peace. Hence it is vital to seek out opposing views and to understand why there are such disagreements, while at the same time to have the ultimate goal of ‘Hé’ in mind. The concept of ‘Hé’ encourages dialogue and open discussion with people of opposing views, and this can be summed up in a short Chinese phrase, ‘Qiu Tong Cun Yi’ (求同存異): ‘While seeking the Common Good, one needs to tolerate Differences’. Rather than seeking uniformity of views, or, for the sake of avoiding tension and confrontation, to oppress differences, the classical philosophy of ‘Hé’ does allow room for disagreements and open debate. As one of the members of our Hong Kong Indaba’s Facebook has noted, ‘Qiu Tong Cun Yi’ emphasises the necessity to look for the ‘common grounds among different parties first. It is because, the common ground is more important than the differences…it is to allow the differences exist among the groups, giving spaces for the higher aim—to reach the state of harmony’.

Therefore, rather than oppressing differences and suppressing varied voices, one should approach conflicts with the goal of promoting ultimate harmony and true peace, which is ‘Hé’. Hence the use of ‘Hé’ is not regarded as merely a means but also an end in itself, driven by trust, sincerity and an honest care for others. Nevertheless, the concept of ‘Hé’ has often been perceived as a means to suppress disagreement because, in real life situations, it always seems to call upon conflicting parties to compromise for the sake of maintaining peace and harmony. It asks people to give up their personal objectives to preserve unity. This, however, is not to suggest that ‘Hé’ is imposing an artificial peace. Rather it seeks to the call upon the conflicting parties to ‘calm down’, to have a ‘break’, and to create some sort of a ‘quiet time’ for the conflicting parties to consider and study each other’s views, with the strong hope for them to negotiate true and long-term peace and harmony.

As such, it is vital not to regard ‘Hé’ as a means to exclude, to suppress differences or to silence voices. In the name of maintaining peace and harmony (’Hé’) it is easy for one to choose the trouble-free option of avoiding conflicts all-together. People may be persuaded to sacrifice their personal goals for the time being, for the sake of maintaining unity or temporary peace. Yet, while one particular confrontation may be suppressed with either of the conflicting parties giving up their personal goals, tension continues to exist and eventually will lead to other confrontations. Therefore, in real life situations, ‘Hé’ is used both as a means and an end, with the goal to pursue ultimate harmony and peace for all parties. For instance, when there is disagreement and opposing parties are in great tension, it is quite normal for a third party to step in to mediate (‘He Shi’, 和事) and to ask the conflicting parties to calm down. I will come back to the role of this mediator later, but now it is worth stressing that the main objective of the mediator is to help the parties concerned cool down, stressing the need to be in harmonious (’Hé’) relationship. As noted earlier, the famous Chinese saying, ‘Prosperity is born out of a household harmony’ (家和萬事興) will be emphasised here to persuade the conflicting parties that only when united does the ‘house’ stand in strength and prosperity.

This is a very important stage of reconciliation. While more often than not, when in conflict, people can easily turn an objective argument into personal attack, this therefore tests the skill of the mediator to keep the opposing parties away from, for example, offensive words which do more damage than good in helping to make the arguments clear. If the mediator succeeds, this will lead opposing parties from the heat, and allow them to calm down and, most importantly, to help the conflicting parties to gradually realise that it is on the issue or an argument that they disagree or dislike, not the people involved. The mediating work here is to prevent turning an ‘objective’ debate into one which involves personal insults and attacks. As has been stressed earlier, this is the first stage of reconciliation to bring along ultimate ‘Hé’.  Furthermore, I would argue that the notion of ‘Hé’ goes further than recognising the other party’s concerns, it also requires one to learn to affirm the other party’s position and to learn to take upon oneself the responsibility of the issue or problem under discussion. This means that one is to be cautioned not to turn the discussion into a personal assault while, at the same time, being prepared to apologise for the possibly of hurting the other party. This does not mean that one should be without principle and compromise all the time, but it emphasises that one should learn to be both confident with one’s argument, yet also be co-operative and accommodating in his/her approach to the debate.

Hence the notion of ‘Hé’ is more than affirming each other’s needs, which is indeed important, but emphasises relational harmony. This calls on the conflicting parties to show empathy and to be willing to sacrifice if required for the Common Good. ‘Hé’ is also related to the Chinese understanding that one should never be over-confident of his/her knowledge, status or ability, but be prepared to learn from others, including those whom one may consider less knowledgeable, lower in status or without much talent. This is stressed by the Master Confucius himself when he says: ‘When there are two people who walk beside me, I can always see them as teacher and learn from them. I will select what is good and learn from them, and will watch out what is bad and avoid’. (The Analects Confucius quoted Shu Er; 三人行, 必有我師焉₀ 擇其善者而從之, 其不善者而改之₀ «論語· 述而第七») Therefore it is vital to encourage conflicting parties to learn about and try to appreciate the needs and concerns of each other.

In our discussion group in Hong Kong, we also talked about the concept of ‘Mientze’ (literally translated as ‘face’), which is usually translated to represent one’s reputation, moral standard, personal performance and status. The concept of ‘Mientze’ goes deep down in Chinese culture. In a conflict situation, it is particularly important to make immediate moves to soften the tension between confronting parties and prevent either side from losing ‘Mientze’. Since, if one party feels that he/she is losing ‘Mientze’ in public over an argument, one may be easily led to believe and see the opposing party’s criticism as a personal attack without much difficulty. It must be emphasised that damages to ‘Mientze’, in real-life situations, are very likely to have lasting repercussions which will spill over to future debates and deepen the tension between the opposing parties, regardless of how ‘objective’ or how well-intentioned the arguments may be.

Different actions and words carry with them varying degrees of force either to damage or to enhance one’s ‘Mientze’, and their relative power is closely related to the relationship one is in. Generally speaking, depending on the intimacy and closeness of the people concerned, their words and actions can mean very different things. The stronger one’s criticism, the more likely it is to cause the one being criticised to lose ‘Mientze’. More caution is therefore demanded and this requires more ‘politeness’ by the criticising party to the criticised, in order to create a ‘Hé’ environment where both parties may feel respected—both have been given enough ‘Mientze’—and hence they are more likely to listen. In our group, we call this the modern ‘culture of face-giving’ (給面子的文化). When people are in conflict, as noted earlier, a third party may act as the mediator to act between the conflicting parties to negotiate a solution to the problem. In practice, this mediator is normally a person who has the respect of both conflicting parties, who is likely to share the same social network of both parties, and someone who has a higher status or authority than the parties concerned.

The mediator’s role is to separate the conflicting parties and to ensure that neither side loses ‘Mientze’. This is why this mediator is likely to have moral or formal authority over the conflicting parties and/or have the respect of the parties.  The mediator normally asks the parties to give the mediator ‘Mientze’ and to quarrel no more. The mediator may stress the earlier saying which emphasises ‘Hé’, such as ‘Prosperity is born out of a household harmony’ (家和萬事興), and remind the conflicting parties of the need to be together and united. Generally speaking, if the mediator has enough ‘Mientze’, the parties will cease the argument without each side losing ‘Mientze’. In the process of negotiation, the parties may take different ways and each side will be asking the other side to give ‘Mientze’. Normally, in order to keep a harmonious and peaceful relationship, with the help of the mediator who will provide the ‘set of steps’ (下臺階 )for the parties to ‘step off the stage of battle’, the parties are likely to concede and give ‘Mientze’ to each other and agree to disagree.

Perhaps, it will be good to illustrate my point with a life-example. One is invited to a dinner party by a friend, who also invites other people, most of whom one does not know. While the friend is proud of his/her cooking, even if one does not find the food at all delicious, one will try to say ‘good words’ to express appreciation of the friend’s hospitality. This is not being dishonest but being courteous. Imagine how embarrassing it will be if, at the table full of other guests, one publicly criticises the food, and how easily the friend may see this as a personal attack with the intention to bring disgrace in front of others. No matter how good the advice may be, which may possibly improve the way of cooking, yet after having been criticised in front of his/her guest, it is quite unlikely that the cook will listen. Nevertheless, if one really feels giving some useful suggestions on how to have the food made better, one can choose, for example, to speak with the cook privately after the dinner party. This resonates Jesus’ advice of first speaking with the ‘believer who sins against you’ privately before bringing the argument to open discussion (Matthew 18: 15-17). I believe we should bear in mind Jesus’ advice when we are involved in disagreements with others, even when we feel we are in the right and others are wrong.

This leads us to another important aspect of Chinese thinking which is about the concept of ‘Guanxi’ (關係, the closet English translation of this word is ‘relationship’ or ‘network’). The Chinese understanding of ‘Hé’ places more emphasis on the ‘Guanxi’ than on the individual concerns of the conflicting parties. The traditional Chinese philosophy of ‘Hé’ stresses human relation, places significant emphasis on people’s ‘Guanxi’ with each other, and understands that each person has his/her place under Heaven. Thus, true peace and harmony cannot be achieved without first having a society which is in ‘order’. It is worth mentioning here what the coordinator of the Hong Kong Continuing Group, Fr Samson Fan, has noted in our Group’s Facebook of  another profound saying of Confucius quoted in Yu Tsz:

‘Hé’ (和) is the value of performing ‘Lǐ’ (禮; this word/concept can loosely be translated as rite, or courtesy).  Of the ways of the kings past, this is the most beautiful of matters small and great. However, there are times when this is not acceptable. When one only seeks ‘Hé’ for its own sake, without be regulated by ‘Lǐ’, this does not do well. (The Analects of Confucius, quoted Yu Tsz)

有子曰:「禮之用, 和爲貴₀ 先王之道, 斯爲美; 小大由之₀ 有所不行, 知和而和, 不以禮節之, 亦不可行也₀」«論語· 學而第十二»

Referring to this quotation, Fr Samson points out that, while ‘Hé’ is a core concept of Chinese values, it needs to be disciplined by ‘Lǐ’ when one should not seek ‘Hé’ for its own sake. Fr Samson raises a vital question in relation to the link between ‘Hé’ and ‘Lǐ’. It is worth reiterating my argument which has been noted earlier in this paper that the philosophy of ‘Hé’ should not be seen as either merely as a means or an end to itself. Rather it should be understood as both a way and the goal which aims for a Common Good (大同) in which there is true peace and harmony.

禮 always means “Rites” or “Ritual”.  My point was to contrast rites with rights, normally understood as the rites which do not point to themselves, but carry with them the ultimate aim of the promotion of true harmony and peace. I would argue that there is much resonance between the Chinese notion of ‘Lǐ’ and the Anglican Common Prayer tradition. The Prayer Book does not and should not point to itself as an end in itself, yet it is within this Prayer Book tradition that we Anglicans, of different languages and cultures, have been living together for hundreds of years. For us, rites, liturgies or any Christian practices and customs, are created for the worship of God and points toward God; they are of themselves of no value if they fail this purpose. Rites are there to help us to serve and to promote true peace and harmony and we, as humans, are not there to ‘serve’ the rites.

To take a well-known example, in the Church of England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer, both the consecrated bread and wine are not defined as either a symbol or whether they have been transubstantiated into real flesh and blood. The Communion services speaks nothing more than the core of Anglican belief that the bread is the Body of Christ, who ‘died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving’, and the wine is ‘Christ’s Blood’ which ‘was shed for thee, and be thankful’. By faith with thanksgiving, in the beauty of the Communion liturgy, it seeks to embrace people who hold different theologies of the Eucharist. It is at the Lord’s Table that all are embraced and welcomed. Nevertheless, the Communion liturgy here does not point to itself, but to God and to God’s Grace for all people.

It is worth noting here that ‘Lǐ’ is one of the classical Five Cardinal Virtues (五常), which include ‘Yen’ (仁, benevolence), ‘Yi’ (義, righteousness), ‘Lǐ’(禮, rites and courtesy), ‘Zhi’ (智, wisdom) and ‘Shin’ (信, faithfulness). These Five Cardinal Virtues are often linked with the Three Principles (三綱), which explain the ‘rightful’ relationships of people in a hierarchal structure—namely the relationship between the emperor and his officials; that between father and his son; and, that between husband and wife. While both the Three Principles and Five Cardinal Virtues can trace their origins to the teachings of Confucius, Mencius and the Legalist schools (法家) respectively during the later part of the Zhou dynasty (from the second half of the 8th century BC to the first half of the 5th century BC), they have been used jointly since the Han Dynasty. However, even though the Three Principles and Five Cardinal Virtues have had a profound impact of the thousand-year history of China, there is not enough space here to explain in detail what and how they influence Chinese thinking. Nevertheless, it is worth stressing that both the Principles and Virtues principally set out that each person has their place under Heaven, and to act contrary to one’s status, class or place, will disturb the ‘order of things’ which will lead to discord, disruption and damage of Harmony and Peace.

For example, the traditional reading of these Principles and Virtues speak of the duty and responsibility between a ruler and his/her subjects, between parents and their children, and between older and younger people. People are defined according to their places under Heaven, and they should act according to their status and places under Heaven. This notion has, however, been abused over the centuries with, for instance, tyrant emperors oppressing their subjects by invoking their divine right from Heaven as prescribed and understood in the Three Principles.  Nevertheless, an abuse of a system or a philosophy does not justify its abolition altogether. The Classical Chinese concept of ‘order’ and its related belief in the interdependent nature of humans lead us to understand the philosophy dynamically rather than literally. This means that we need to see the philosophies of the Five Cardinal Virtues and the Three Principles in their own historical and cultural contexts and to understand the concept of one taking one’s place under Heaven as a way and a process through which one learns to be human (to be whole). In other words, the heart of these Virtues and Principles, in close relation to ‘Hé’, emphasises the individual to assume his/her moral and natural obligations which are inherent in his/her position, and focuses on human relations above the individual.

This may sound very odd to modern ears, especially in the West, but one does wonder whether the excessive individualism and obsession with ‘human rights’ has done as much good as bad to human society. The Chinese notion of ‘Hé’, as noted repeatedly in this paper, places much importance on human relations, with its emphasis on maintaining harmony and peace. While ‘Hé’ does not suppress differing views, it does require people to respect each other and calls upon people to sacrifice their personal goals for the sake of the Common Good. One has to appreciate that, for us to grow together in an interdependent and harmonious relationship, we have to learn to ‘sacrifice our small self for the great self’ (犧牲小我 , 完成大我, a modern saying).

Moreover, within an interdependent relationship, one’s identity does not rest on one’s own self. One’s identity is built within a set of networks, including one’s family, friends, occupation and philosophy. In other words, one is not complete until and only when one is within the ‘great self’.  This close-relatedness can be seen in the ways and words we use to describe ourselves. For example, when Chinese names are written or spoken, the family names always come before the given names, and this speaks a lot about how we understand ourselves and how our identity rests heavily on the families from which we come. Chinese parents often describe their children as their ‘bone and flesh’, and this not only displays the closeness between parents and their children, but also stresses that the children are parts of the parents and the wider family network. Hence traditional Chinese philosophy teaches that the children’s ‘hair and skin come from parents, so no damage should be done to them’ and that the ‘children should live a good and honourable life so that the children’s names can be renowned and remembered in generations to come, and by doing so, the parents will be honoured’. (Xiao Jing, a classical book about filial piety; 身體髮膚, 受之父母, 不敢毀傷, 孝之始也; 立身行道, 揚名於后世, 以顯父母, 孝之終也₀ «孝經»)

In an age which stresses the rights of the individual and ‘equity’, the call for collectivity, duty and responsibility may appear very weird and one may even find it unacceptable to speak of one’s taking one’s place under Heaven.  Nevertheless, it is vital to stress that, within traditional Chinese thinking, in order to achieve true ‘Hé’ where there will be true and long-lasting harmony and peace, one needs to learn to take upon oneself one’s responsibility in society before one even begin to talk about one’s rights—bearing in mind that one’s rights and identity can only be understood in relation to one’s place within that society. While traditional Chinese teaching stresses the duty of subjects to the emperors, and it also calls upon the emperors to live up their roles as heads and fulfil their duties to bring peace and justice to their subjects. A classic example can be found in the Great Learning (Da Xue, «大學»), when it stresses that the higher the position the higher one’s responsibility and moral conduct.

For me, the Chinese understanding of self finds much resemblance in St Paul’s teaching on the Church being the Body of Christ. Anglicans have always professed themselves to be part of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ in communion with Christians of all ages and in all places. We also believe that we have each inherited different gifts from God. As St Paul describes, we function like different parts of the body, each having its different function, but we need each other to be whole, under the supreme Headship of Christ our Lord. Therefore, while we pay our respect to bishops and leaders of the Church on earth, our obedience to them comes from our allegiance to God, and we believe that, regardless of one’s particular ministry (whether as verger, bishop, reader, or as a lay Christian), each one of us is equally loved by God. While we are different, we need each other because we all share the common identity as part of the Body of Christ. Since we believe that the Anglican Communion (our Family) is a gift from God, we need to learn to respect each other and try to appreciate each other’s views even if these views seriously challenge ours. Furthermore, if our Lord can eat with sinners and outcasts in society, to the point that He even shared His Last Supper with Peter who would deny Him three times and Judas who would betray Him, we are encouraged to be at the same Table and share meals with those with whom we disagree. We should even be prepared to eat with our ‘enemies’ whom our Lord has commanded us to love, without whom we are never ‘whole’.

Furthermore, as has been noted earlier, classical Chinese teaching encourages us to place ourselves in the other’s shoes and try to understand how we might have felt if we were in their positions. In our Hong Kong Continuing Indaba Group, we commended the important Chinese concept that calls upon us to discipline ourselves strictly while treating others with great leniency. (律己以嚴, 待人以寬) We understand that traditional Chinese philosophy stresses self-discipline. The Analects («論語») and the Great Learning («大學»), for example, both encourage one to discipline both one’s body and mind, and keep one’s desires and impulses under control. Confucius teaches that ‘being capable to discipline oneself and observe ‘Lǐ’ is ‘Yen’ (benevolence)’. (The Analects Confucius quoted Yan Yian;克己復禮為仁 «論語·顏淵第十二»)

This means that one will be truly benevolent if one is a self-disciplined person who observes the rites (’Lǐ’). While ‘Lǐ’ requires one to act according to one’s place under Heaven, and to perform one’s duty and responsibility as given by nature, the process and goal of being a well-balanced, self-aware and disciplined person who is capable of controlling his/her temper and feelings is therefore of utmost importance. This is similar to the age-old Christian theology of the relationship between ‘faith’ and ‘good works’. We Anglicans do not think that our salvation is earned by our ‘good works’, but by faith through Grace; but we also recognise that faith cannot exist without good works. Similarly, the observing of ‘Lǐ’/rites in themselves does not lead us anywhere unless we are first people of true benevolence ‘Yen’ (仁). Only because we want to do good in the first place—out of our search for ‘Hé’—will we readily put ourselves under strict discipline and observe ‘Lǐ’ earnestly. Our discipline and our performing of ‘Lǐ’/ rites, like the Christian ‘good works’ are not there to show off and to earn the respect of people surrounding. Rather, just like ‘good works’ are the outworking of the Christian faith (these good works are done naturally without the desire to earn praise from people), ‘Lǐ’ is the outworking of one’s emphasis on ‘Hé’ and the Five Cardinal Virtues stated above.

The Doctrine of the Mean «中庸», one of the Chinese Four Classical Books (the other three are the Analects «論語», the Great Learning «大學» and the Mencius «孟子»), states that: ‘The gentleman should be aware of places where he is not seen. He should be anxious and concerned in mind when he is in places where he is not being heard. Even in places where he is alone, he must be strictly disciplined, observe and live up to the standard of “Li”’. (The Doctrine of the Mean, first paragraph; 是故君子戒乎其所不睹,恐懼乎其所不聞₀ 莫見乎隱,莫顯乎微,故君子慎其獨也₀ «中庸· 第一段»)

This suggests that we have to discipline ourselves well before we can even consider criticising or judging others. As has been noted earlier, even the Master Confucius expresses that he has things to learn from anyone who happens to walk besides him; we have more reason to be modest and have the courage to open ourselves to the challenges and admonitions given to us by others.

As Christians, we are even further called to imitate and display the humility of Christ, who speaks about loving and serving others and who warns us not to ‘judge’ others lest we ourselves be judged. When we are criticised by others, we should learn first to forbear the critical party and try to see their good intentions when they make such criticism. Traditional Chinese philosophy speaks very much of the importance to forbear others, especially when we feel that others are criticising or offending us, or making us lose ‘Mientze’. Forbearance (‘Ren’, 忍) is one of the virtues traditionally taught in Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. A well-known Chinese saying which derives from Buddhist teaching advices that: ‘There will never be an end if people cannot learn to forgive but keep being occupied with anger, revenge and the repaying evil for evil. Far from it, we have to forgive others when we have the opportunity to do so’. (冤冤相報何時了, 得饒人處且饒人) Again, this finds much resonance in Christian theology when we are called to forgive (see, for example, Matthew 18:15-35). Our Continuing Indaba Group also cites a modern Chinese catchy phrase: ‘Forbearance for a while will clam the sea; willing to yield a few steps backwards allows one to see the wider sky and sea’ (忍一時風平浪靜, 退一步海闊天空).

To have good relationships among members of the family, each member needs to learn to forbear with one another and try to appreciate each other’s needs and concerns. In fact when one takes a few steps backward, one’s view of the world becomes much bigger and one’s horizon much widened. When one’s emphasis is on human relations and the responsibility of every person to promote harmony, and less on the rights of individuals, people will then be more willing to forbear with one another, and to engage in open dialogue. This is a different way of thinking, in opposition to modern Western stress on the individual, ‘rights’ and ‘equality’. This paper argues that, human relationships are very complex and often talk about ‘rights’ or ‘equality’ simply does not work in real-life situations. To take an example, there are times when married couples choose to leave each other for a while when they are having an argument—perhaps with one being in the bedroom and another in the study—so that both can calm down and talk about the problem later. Often in marriage, one side may have to ‘make the first move’ and even to ‘apologise’ in order to avoid direct confrontation, or to reconcile. Good family relationships often require more forbearance, sacrifice, communication and willingness to serve, than on the rights of the individual members of the family.

To conclude, I would like to argue that sometimes a period of separation may help to serve for future long-term union and harmony. Like the husband and wife noted in the example above, the short period of separation allows them time and space to cool down, to think deeply about the issues and problems involved, and even to consider each other’s concerns; while at the same time neither side loses ‘Mientze’/’face’. This separation may sometimes be a very short period, while at other times this may be longer. Sometimes we may feel reluctant to separate. Traditional Chinese philosophy emphasises ‘Hé’ which places enormous importance on unity in difference and warns against light separation and division.  Nevertheless, I will argue that sometimes perhaps a period of separation will change people’s previous held position. So often it is only when we have lost something which we have previously taken for granted that we discover we have lost so much. Separation may lead one to realise how precious it is for one to be part of the ‘big self’, and forces one to rethink whether it is really worth breaking relationship with those with whom one disagrees.  Furthermore, sometimes it is only after a separation, when we look back, that we realise how much we had missed out when we were in conflict with others. One classic example can be found in the present relationship between Methodists and Anglicans. While it has taken us many years to realise the sadness of the separation, we are gradually working more and more closely in our common mission for the Gospel as one Christian family. We have become more and more appreciative of each other’s differences and gifts, which I believe is a blessing from God.

While writing this paper, I have wondered whether we have sometimes lost sight of and have not been putting enough trust in the Spirit. While, of course, we need to do our best to preserve unity, as Christ has called us to be One, yet we have to acknowledge that, just as the Communion is a gift of God to us and the world, it is God who is in charge. When we have done our best, we cannot but learn to trust and rest in God. One may recall the incident in Acts 15 when St. Paul and St. Barnabas had to choose their separate ways of mission because of the disagreements over whether John Mark should be on the trip.  While St. Barnabas and St. Paul must have had a very close relationship as fellow Christian brothers, they eventually decided to go on separate paths. If we have stopped our reading here, we may find it sad to see these two important church leaders separate from each other over a ‘trivial’ matter. Nevertheless, if we continue our reading of the Biblical accounts, we realise that their separation eventually led to the furtherance of the Gospel.

It is a difficult decision to separate sometimes, but when one has sought all means to preserve unity and has failed, one can do no more than to consider a temporary separation, to put one’s trust in God and to hope that the separation is a way of leading to reconciliation and long-term harmony and peace. I will suggest that the ‘reunion’ after separation will require the work of the mediator again. The mediator will need to find ways through which conflicting/separated parties will not lose ‘Mientze’/ face if these parties have found reasons to reunite. In Chinese culture, the mediator may invite the parties involved to dinner, and, while eating, the mediator will ask the parties to give ‘Mientze’ to the host to reunite. In this way, both parties can then state that their reunion is due to their common respect to the mediator (to give the mediator ‘Mientze’) and both parties are able to preserve their honour. Of course, during the conversation, one party may say something like, ‘I am sorry, I should not have said/done this…’, while the other party will probably reply, ‘Please, no need to say sorry, it is actually my fault…’. While these may be honest apologies as both parties recognise their mistakes, these words are more likely to have been spoken as a matter of courtesy (’Lǐ’) to show that they are considerate of each other’s concerns and needs, are willing to give each other ‘Mientze’, and are prepared to seek a solution that works for both parties.

I present this paper with the hope that it may provide some insights in the current situation within our beloved Communion. Nevertheless, I stress that the concept of ‘Hé’ and its related ideas and means of resolving conflicts have derived from a particular Chinese cultural context. Caution is required if one is to apply the Chinese philosophy to Western contexts. I encourage my readers to keep ‘Hé’ in mind and see it as both a means and an ultimate goal where there is true harmony and peace. I stress the importance of forbearance and the willingness of one’s sacrifice for the Common Good.  One should learn to be critical of both one’s own position and others, but never be judgmental of others, following the traditional Chinese teaching to keep oneself strictly disciplined while treating others with great leniency. Finally, as a Chinese Anglican, I leave my readers with the following Scriptural passage, with the hope that, when we are in tension, we may learn to cool down and listen to those with whom we disagree, and make our reply with caution and pastoral sensitivity:

Those with good sense are slow to anger; and it is their glory to overlook an offence.

Proverbs 19:11 (NRSV translation)