Drawing on different readings of the Zacchaeus story, Augustine Tanner-Ihmn invites us to consider the post-colonial context of our preaching.
Homiletics, the art of preaching, has always been deeply embedded in my theological and ecclesial experiences. As an African American Christian, we often interpret, or exegete, Christian Scripture, and our surrounding society through the vehicle of preaching the holy narratives. Within the black religious tradition, preaching has taken on a sacramental character, if not rising to the level of a fully recognized sacrament.
The minister’s role was, and continues to be, to engage deeply with the Biblical text, excavate the good news it contains, and effectively communicate this message to a congregation living under oppressive societal and governmental forces. The white church’s influence, often masquerading as orthodox teachings, added another layer of persecution, as it provided biblical teachings heavily steeped in white supremacist hermeneutics. Therefore, it was almost inevitable that the modern study of postcolonial thought would arise from a collective intellectual awakening among global communities of colour.
Our perspective on ancient writings, faith formation’s progression, and our view of the world should not be seen through the lens of whiteness. Instead, it should be viewed from the standpoint of oppressed people seeking to look beyond the prevalent lens. In terms of Biblical interpretation, it is essential to move beyond the Eurocentric viewpoint and seek a deeper, embodied understanding of the text from our fellow believers. This post will examine the concept of Post-Colonial Preaching, its implications, and its potential applications for preachers and congregations.
Postcolonial preaching, at its core, takes into account the historical and enduring effects of colonialism and imperialism on the interpretation and dissemination of the Christian message. It addresses the power dynamics, cultural biases, and injustices that colonial structures and systems have perpetuated.
Colonialism has left deep marks on both colonizers and colonized societies. Christianity’s spread often coincided with, or even resulted from, colonial expansion. This led to the imposition of cultural norms, language, and interpretations of the Gospel that echoed the colonizers’ perspectives and interests. Postcolonial preaching seeks to deconstruct these frameworks, challenging dominant narratives, presumptions, and biases in traditional theological interpretations while elevating marginalized voices.
Emphasizing contextualization is crucial in postcolonial preaching. Every community to whom the Gospel is preached has its unique history, culture, and struggles that need to be understood. This approach values dialogue and partnership with historically marginalized or silenced communities and respects their experiences and insights.
Moreover, postcolonial preaching seeks to dismantle oppressive systems and promote justice, reconciliation, and decolonization. It calls for commitment to social transformation, challenging structures and attitudes that breed inequality and racism, and the marginalization of indigenous knowledge and spirituality.
Postcolonial preaching is a dynamic practice rather than a fixed methodology. It invites preachers to engage with diverse methodologies, including biblical scholarship, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, and liberation theology. This approach asks preachers to critically assess their biases and assumptions and engage in theological reflection that acknowledges colonialism’s complexities and legacies.
The ultimate goal of postcolonial preaching is to proclaim the Gospel’s liberating message in a way that respects the dignity and agency of all people. It seeks to promote justice and reconciliation and confront colonialism’s lingering effects on church and society.
A case in point is the Gospel According to Saint Luke, chapter 19, when analysed through a postcolonial lens. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, was seen as a traitor, as tax collectors were often viewed as collaborators with the oppressive Roman Empire, the colonial power of the time. These tax collectors were often guilty of overcharging their own people to line their pockets, essentially exploiting their own for the benefit of the foreign oppressor.
Jesus’ choice to dine with Zacchaeus challenges social norms. He willingly associates with a person many consider an oppressor and traitor, thereby subverting the existing power structure. This act of Jesus embodies his message in Mark 2:17. Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus — giving half of his possessions to the poor and promising to repay four times the amount to anyone he has cheated — reflects a willingness to provide reparations and redistribute his ill-gotten wealth.
Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus’s transformation affirms the Gospel’s inclusive message. It serves as a call to reflect on modern systems of oppression and the need for justice and equality. Through a postcolonial lens, Luke 19 becomes a profound story of challenging oppressive systems, emphasizing justice, and illustrating the power of repentance and redemption. It serves as a call to reflect on modern systems of oppression and the need for justice and equality.
Therefore, postcolonial preaching encourages critical engagement with traditional narratives and perspectives, fosters an environment of inclusivity and equality, and strives for social justice by challenging oppressive structures. It serves as a reminder that the Gospel message, when contextualized and appropriately communicated, can be a powerful tool for social transformation and liberation. It is an approach that is deeply ingrained in the experiences of marginalized communities, and it is a call to the church to continually reflect on its practices, assumptions, and teachings in the light of the Gospel’s liberating message.
Expanding on these notions further, one might ask, what does this mean in practice for preachers and congregations? How can postcolonial preaching be used as a tool for theological reflection and community building?
The practice of postcolonial preaching calls for an intentional interrogation of the historical and current realities of colonialism and its impacts on the Christian faith and community. The preacher, thus, must engage in self-reflection and critical analysis of his or her own cultural, social, and historical context. This is essential to uncover biases and to wrestle with the ways colonialism has shaped and continues to shape their worldview and interpretation of scripture.
For instance, let us consider again the story of Zacchaeus. In a traditional, Eurocentric interpretation, the focus might be on personal sin and redemption. Zacchaeus is often portrayed as a wealthy sinner who, through an encounter with Jesus, finds repentance and salvation. However, through a postcolonial lens, Zacchaeus can also be seen as a figure trapped in the oppressive system of the Roman Empire. His story becomes not just about personal redemption but also about systemic oppression, economic exploitation, and the liberative power of Jesus’ message.
Incorporating this approach, preachers are tasked with creating a theological space that allows for the exploration of the intersections of faith and colonialism. By acknowledging the legacy of colonialism in the interpretation of scripture, preachers can foster a deeper understanding of the ways in which the Bible has been used to legitimize and perpetuate oppression. This creates an opportunity for congregations to engage in a collective re-imagining and reinterpreting of scripture that reflects their unique contexts and experiences.
Moreover, postcolonial preaching calls congregations to action. It invites them to consider their role in the ongoing work of decolonization, reconciliation, and justice. Congregations are challenged to examine their complicity in upholding structures of colonial power and to explore ways they can participate in dismantling these structures.
For instance, this could mean supporting indigenous communities’ efforts to preserve and revitalize their languages and cultures, which are often threatened by the lingering effects of colonialism. It could also involve advocating for policies that address historical and ongoing injustices resulting from colonialism, such as land dispossession, cultural genocide, and economic exploitation.
It’s important to note that postcolonial preaching is not limited to sermons delivered from the pulpit. It also includes the way scripture is studied and interpreted in Bible studies, the way prayers are articulated, the hymns and songs selected for worship, and the various forms of church’s engagement with its community. The whole life of the congregation is an opportunity to preach a postcolonial gospel that affirms the dignity and worth of all people, and that strives to bring about God’s vision of justice and peace.
In conclusion, postcolonial preaching is a transformative practice that invites preachers and congregations to critically engage with the legacy of colonialism and to seek new ways of understanding and living out the Gospel. By challenging the dominant narratives and structures of colonial power, it offers a hopeful vision of a church and a world where all voices are heard, all cultures are respected, and all people are valued. While the task is complex and the journey is long, the pursuit of a postcolonial approach to preaching is an important step towards the realization of a truly inclusive and just Christian community.
Revd Dr K. Augustine Tanner-Ihm, OMS is a minister, educator, facilitator, speaker, presenter, educator and an equality, diversity and inclusion consultant. He is currently pursuing a second doctorate in Leadership and Organizational Psychology from Bakke Graduate University in Dallas, Texas. He currently lectures in Theology for the Northern Mission Centre and the School of New Theology. He is an active Anglican priest in the Anglican Communion and a member of the Order of the Mustard Seed.
As with all our guest posts, views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CSBV.