Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marginality and Christian Theology

Yung Suk Kim

In his book Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1995), Jung Young Lee states that his marginal experience is the basis for his contextual theology. Furthermore, Lee affirms that marginality is a new source of power (self-affirmation) in spite of its negative connotations. Lee goes on to argue that Christian theology, the mission of the church, a habit of thinking, personal commitment and all our hearts and minds have to be based in new marginality of self-affirmation. A new marginal person is the one who relentlessly hopes for harmonious justice beyond one's identity, defiantly protesting all abusive systems and evil in the world.

To support his thesis about new marginality, Lee rejects the one-way, classical definition of marginality that emphasizes the negative sides of marginality such as alienation, rejection, and struggles, and so forth. This classical definition is the product of "centrality" according to which marginality is a situation of "got stuck" or "in-between."

But Lee defines marginality from a marginal perspective, which upholds a "both/and" and "in-beyond" approach. For example, Lee declares that he is both an American and an Asian. "Both/and" approach is a self-affirmation of both Asian and American.

He also talks about a new marginality person who stands "in-beyond," which means standing beyond "in-between" and "in-both" (Asian and American).

That is to say, such an "in-beyond" person transcends the current time and space to form a new identity, which is formulated both in "in-between" and "in-both" worlds. Lee states that this kind of "in-beyond" thinking leads to living up to "the harmony of difference," as God's creation itself is of plurality and differences.

Lee continues to explore marginality to the extent that marginality should be the center of Christian theology. For instance, God becomes marginal through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Marginality is God's choice of loving humanity. Jesus was also marginal, being rejected and crucified by the people. In other words, Jesus lived "in-beyond," affirming the world that rejected him.

Likewise, Lee suggests that the church, seminaries, and all our Christian works be a community of marginality that lives up to the love and servanthood of Jesus. The author envisions the whole church and Christian institutions to embraces a holistic "in-beyond" approach.

Lee does an excellent job because he reclaims a Christian theology of marginality. Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Mt. 20:28). As Jesus was a marginal person, so are Christians. Christians' power comes out of serving others. Another strong point is regarding the identity of the minority. Marginal experiences are certainly negative but are not hopeless altogether.

Lee suggests that we transform our marginal experiences to form a new identity of hope and love beyond the current conditions of the world. Lee also made a big contribution to the understanding of multicultural society. Pluralistic, multicultural society needs multiple centers and margins. Lee seems to encourage all of us to play an active role in making a better society.

He also lets us recognize the mystery of creation that reflects diversity, plurality, and differences in our culture. Everyone has his or her own place of margin, because, according to Lee, margins and centers are not fixed; rather, they are dynamic and moving. A multicultural society is a kind of the web that every unit of society has its own connection to one another, modifying its place constantly.

Lee's book greatly has shaped my worldview and understanding of multicultural theology. I became confident about my role as a biblical theologian in the multicultural society. Through my upbringings, education, experiences in Korea and elsewhere (including Latin America and the USA) I came to view the world through the lens of critical diversity or imagination.

When I lived in a small rural village during my childhood, I liked to play with things in nature and grasped the harmony of differences. Not a single thing is the same as the other in nature: Different colors of leaves, different trees, different flowers, different stars, different birds, and so forth.

While we are different with each other, we also share a common humanity. We are still the same human being. In nature, dandelion is different from the rose but it is still a beautiful flower. God made all of us good, including nature. Why do we not maintain such a beautiful world?

Readers should not be confused between two kinds of marginality: a marginality given due to social, cultural determinants and a voluntary marginality. Whereas the marginalized person can affirm his or her identity amid degrading situations, injustices cannot be tolerated.