Biblical Notes on Mission and Theology: Doing theology through activism for life

by Dr Paulo Ueti

Date added: 25/04/2017

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Brazil National Conference – Recife

24-27 April 2017



Ora et Labora

Convers(at)ions to change and be changed


Paulo Ueti[i]


“Yes, because the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Dt 30,14)


“... there is a place where matter is moved by hearing the Word: it is the body.

The body is the magic centre of the universe.

The body is magical because it is made up of words:

'... and the Word became flesh ...'

The body is born of marriage between flesh and words.

When flesh and words make love, the body is born. “

(Rubem Alves)[ii]




This dialogue is part of a larger conversation about politics, cultures, salvation/healing/health, activism, hope, resilience and movement (dynamos of the Kingdom of God: mission). In Latin America (and particularly Brazil where I live most of the time) one cannot speak the words “movement” (mission) and “resilience” without imagining (i.e., bringing memory into aesthetics) the reality of social movements such as the Landless Rural Workers Movement, my place of activism; the homeless movement; the movement for public health; struggles for democracy, to guarantee fundamental rights, currently jeopardised; movements against religious and cultural intolerances, against homophobic, sexist, totalitarian and ethnocentric thinking which generate exclusions, violence and death. Exclusion of fundamental rights, the right to reach the table (Eucharist, community but also food and survival, see. Mt 15:21-28). Movements against all those who want to impose “one idiom/language/behaviour (moral) to dominate the world” (see. Gn 11), against the privatisation and commoditisation of public systems and life itself, and against the establishment of a society of privileges. I bring all of this into this reflection on mission, theologies, transformative development, evangelism and spirituality.

My reflection is, of course, the fruit of my own history, of the traces of different cultures that inhabit my being and of many years of listening to God in the Church, in the world and in the Bible. It is the result of the awareness that we are all immersed in different cultures and that we, Latin Americans and Brazilians, especially, are mixed, syncretic and plural people. We carry in our words and in our bodies, seeds of the verb that became flesh and dwelt among us, among all of us and not only in a privileged environment or culture. If there is any privilege here, it is an ethical and epistemological one, from where we listen to God and learn from him and from the periphery of the world, the crucified ones, the most vulnerable.

I write this essay in the context of a dialogue on Mission and theologies or theologies of mission in the Anglican Communion. For the region of Latin America, the theme was chosen as Anglican public theology and political engagement. In the context in which I live and work most of my time, it is certainly a matter of fundamental importance to be democratised and published to make the debate more public thereby leading this dialogue to impact and positively influence Anglican communities and Anglican organizations that work in the public arena as well as those that work in theological education and discipleship training.

Recognising the Kingdom and its challenges to being

The word was made flesh and camped among us. And not only by becoming human, but becoming vulnerable, poor, marginalised. This way of approaching the theology of incarnation has been a strong inspiration for Latin America to remain faithful to the God’s request and desire of justice, mobilisation, movement, transgression for life and unconditional love (see Is 58; Ho 1-3;11; Jr 9:10-11; Mt 18:15-21; Jn 12:1-9). The vulnerable and dependent body is a figure of Jesus Christ resurrected (see 1Cor 12 and Rm 12).

This strong theological affirmation (and reality for those who believe) is crucial to set the background where I speak from. I, as theologian, Bible scholar and activist, collaborate to the kingdom of God in working with the Anglican Alliance, the Brazilian Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and the local church as an advisor to my local Bishop in the Diocese of Brasilia, which I serve with great honour and commitment. Working with Anglican Alliance provides me with great opportunities to listen to God in different contexts and strengthen my commitment to His mission.

I believe it would be interesting to highlight my involvement with the Landless Rural Workers Movement to further clarify the public locus from which I mainly speak. MST is a social movement in Brazil,  generally regarded as one of the largest in Latin America, with an estimated informal 1.5 million membership,organised in 23 of Brazil's 26 states. It aims at struggling for general access to land for poor rural workers through land reform in Brazil and through activism around social issues impinging on the achievement of land possession and tenure, such as unequal income distributionracismsexism, and media monopolies. In short, MST strives to achieve a social covenant providing a self-sustainable way of life for the poor in rural areas.

Connecting to transform

Religion and religious discourses (theologies) are powerful tools that affect private and public life, everyday politics, influencing behaviours, values, and sometimes defining the legal and cultural order within a context. Divinity, whatever it may be, is always an element of contention in societies because it is used as an excuse to decide what values we are going to apply and develop, what behaviours are allowed, and more importantly, what behaviours are not authorised because it is “against nature and against God”. We have experienced an advance on the public arena of religious and political fundamentalisms that are extreme and dangerous for the “common good,” privileging certain (minority) groups in favour of others (most the population). That is why the question that remains for us, believers and theologians, is: what is the role of religion, theological production and education, and religious agents in our societies? “Cui bono?” (Whom does it benefit?), a fundamental question of the Christian tradition in the processes of re–reading and producing discourse (hermeneutical politics) on the sacred books, discourses kept in the memory of tradition, those selectively kept in writing and, currently, in preaching and theological education.

It is crucial to learn from Jesus who is the subject and the site (locus theologicus) of revelation and missionary action that transforms for “eternal and fulfilled life”.

In recent years, we have also experienced an intense effervescence of social movements that organise themselves and form networks of action, study, reflection and, above all, liberating praxis to influence the public and private arenas of life, in defence of the rights of the Earth and Humanity attacked and mistreated by the economic and developmental interests of large economic groups and governments. This is a sign (revealing) of the strength and vitality of the movements of bodies in the world, but also a sad sign of more violence and disrespect, often institutionalized, toward the fundamental rights of the planet and of human beings. It is enough to look around and be surrounded, with all the senses of our being, by this reality that, even when silenced and silent, “groans and suffers in labour pains until now ... sighing for redemption” (Rm 8:22–23).

We have also experienced an effervescence of transformative contextual theologies. I point out that all theologies are contextual, but not all are transformational. Obviously, this is a debate that we have witnessed within the Anglican Communion, and this has a direct impact on the conversa(c)tions about the theme of this meeting and project: Anglican public theology and political engagement. Although many of us continue to say that every theology (we might say “every science” – a concept also in dispute) arises from everyday life, the stories we share and the mixtures we make in our “kitchens” (to produce meals or writings), unfortunately we are still bewitched by the shadow of the concept of objectivity, impartiality and unique truth, of the environment that must worship circumspection and rigour, only achievable if one has attended or is attending this strange world called academy.

But it is increasingly recognized that, in our contexts, theology belongs to the world. Liberation, feminist, ethnic and sexual diversity theologies are increasingly recognised as public (done in public, for the public and influencing public spaces), shaping the thinking and organisation of our societies. They influence the legal, social, moral and political ordering of our contexts and, therefore, it is from these contexts that we must speak and where we must, for the sake of ethics and faith, act.

Politics (care for the common good), acting politically, is an identity feature of Christianity, and we cannot remain silent or heedless in the face of this reality. The spirit of justice of the God of Life and Deliverance, which sees and causes to see and engages himself (Ex 3:7-10) cannot be silenced. If we are the image and likeness of God and if we are born of Him, we must do the same thing that He did, does, and will continue to do. Our mission, as part of the Missio Dei, is of constant transformative engagement so that life will continue, abundantly, and the Kingdom be revealed (there are groups that are not letting us see, because it is near (place, not time), “it is already among us.” (Mk 1:1-15). Therefore, we insist on integral mission as God's relational expression which is unconditional mercy, compassion and justice because God “Restores my life and guides me in the ways of justice for his name's sake” (Ps 23:3).

I bring up the dream and the accomplishment of the Anglican Alliance on this journey of strengthening this path of faith and the Anglican tradition, of remaining faithful to the incarnation of God and to his ever-formed and ever-reforming political commitment. The Anglican Alliance is an expression of the Anglican Communion that is dedicated to witnessing in the public arena the revelation of God who saw, made visible and took the initiative to go where vulnerability is experienced and incarnate as human.

Anglican Alliance: ora et labora – pray and act[iii]

The Anglican Alliance is an alliance of churches and agencies in the Anglican Communion to inspire and facilitate synergies for a world free from impoverishment, poverty, suffering, conflicts, discrimination of any kind and injustices, a world where all people live in just and sustainable relations with all of God's creation. It is the fruit of the dream of many people eager to express publicly the living and political faith (which does not conform to this world and wants to transform it – Rm 12:1-2) and to influence the public arena with our theologies, spiritualities and missionary requirements.

The Anglican Alliance was an initiative of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion. The idea was first articulated by some bishops across the Communion during the 2008 Lambeth Conference, which recommended the establishment of a new mechanism (method, way, process) for the Anglican family to work more closely together and coordinately in view of a transformative development, humanitarian aid and public engagement. It is important to emphasize that the first initiative for the emergence of the Alliance came from Latin America[iv], where there was a vast experience to share in all these areas.

The Anglican Alliance is rooted in and shaped by the common understanding of God's holistic mission, the desire to continue being a parable of the Kingdom in the world and by the ethical, aesthetic and epistemological demand to be with the most vulnerable people, to recognize the mystery of the incarnation in them, through them and to act with them that all people and the planet, our common home, may have life. All this because God attentively sees the misery of the people, hears their cry because of their oppressors, descends to free them and to lead them up to a better land (Ex 3: 7-10).

And this is done in covenant, as a vulnerable community (if a member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers, if a member rejoices, the whole body rejoices – 1Cor 12; Rm 12) which recognizes the power of the Spirit of God, the positive aspect of weakness and vulnerability and heeds the call to mission. Mission is not optional, but an intrinsic requirement, part of the Christian “package.” This image is accepted because it is also understood that the Anglican Communion is a family of churches and agencies characterized by deep interdependence and shared intentional discipleship. Thus, committed to discipleship that the fullness of life (of people and the planet) be a reality, the Alliance works hard to “empower baptised people to live faith publicly with their gifts and talents to engage and positively impact daily life as ambassadors of Christ” (see International Discipleship and Disciple-Making, pp. 84-86; adapted by the author).

Therefore, Christianity is intrinsically relational and eccentric, it is outward not inward oriented, it is about passion and love. That is why faith is necessarily political, inspires and drives the care for the common good, the common house. The Anglican tradition proposes to express this through the commitment suggested by the Anglican Consultative Council in the 5 Marks of Mission, all of which are intertwined and should not be treated separately; they are interdependent:

1. To proclaim the good news of the reign of God;

2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers;

3. To respond to human need by loving service;

4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation;

5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

The baptized people are immersed/inserted (baptising = immersing) in these waters (paths) to share life, history, joys, sufferings and knowledges (theologies) and to sail together in this mission, in the certainty and spiritual experience that God “chose what is foolishness in the world to confound the wise, and what is weakness in the world, God has chosen it to confound that which is strong, and what is vile and despised in the world, which is not, God has chosen it to reduce unto nothing that which is, lest any creature should boast before God” (1 Cor. 1: 27–29). And hiding certain things from the wise and the learned “he revealed them unto the little ones” (Mt 11: 25-27; Lk 10: 21-22).

All baptised persons need healthy food for the development of a living faith, expressed in works that “please God” (Is 58; Jas 1:27). That is why the Anglican Alliance has training and formation for intentional discipleship built into its action plan.

As part of my duty as theologian and Bible scholar and my commitment to grassroots groups (a place to listen to and be touched by the Spirit of God: the burning fire and unsettling wind), I recently taught a course on the “materiality of the discourse of resurrection” as a spiritual source to continue striving for rights and community bounds, eternal dialogue and fidelity to God. The group was formed by Christians engaged in social transformation in the Brazilian countryside. Most of them struggling for decades for the right to have their own land to live, produce and reproduce life. Brazil is one of the most unequal countries in the continent. It seems that there is no hope and approaching the sacred texts (of life and Bible) is quite transforming and inspiring to keep with hope and dynamos to continue struggling for better place to live.

Through a very participatory methodology we moved from Paul’s letters and the Gospels finding and making meaning on the discourse of resurrection (yes, I believe they do proper and strong theology). It was powerful to understand and embed this reading in their own context, clarifying the relationship between God’s will, mission and transformation. The purpose of Christian life is not death (or to be murdered like Jesus), but from death proceed life and hope beyond the possibility of destruction. As a very important Roman Catholic Bishop, Oscar Romero, from El Salvador (Central America), once said: “If you kill me, I will resurrect in the struggle of my people.”

The purpose (and horizon) of doing theology with people is to discover courage, warm hearts, and to understand the energy (dynamos) that came from God’s accompaniment and perseverance with us (see Lk 24:13-35). 

God is the God of Unconditional Love and Justice

God reveals himself in the history of the world, and for the Christian religion this reached its highest point when he decided to incarnate, becoming a servant human being (Phil 2: 5-11). To listen to (to obey, accompany, fall in love with) God attentively it is necessary to turn toward that which came off the spirit and his mouth, that is, to pay attention to the world (see. Genesis 1 and 2; Psalm 104).

It is in this attitude as believers that we come across the stories of the people in our contexts and the stories of biblical peoples. Stories marked by the experience of suffering, vulnerability, desire, lack, but also great joy, love, fullness through the discovery of a God who loves and defends the lives of his sons and daughters. It is in the mission (in actions) for the care and transformative development, in humanitarian aid and public advocacy work (Jer. 9: 22-24) that we find a fundamental “locus” to experience the God of Life who became incarnate in Jesus and who expresses himself through the churches gathered in his name.

Jesus, firstly an heir of the prophetic movement, is the paradigm in which we situate ourselves to continue theologising the mission and missionising theologies in the key of transformative development. For this, daily conversion is always necessary. Being available and being able to live within the ephemeral, on the path where everything can always change direction so that one can reach the target (not sinning) properly.

Mission: transforming contexts TOGETHER

When we hear the word “mission,” classic theories and practices come to mind of communication of the Good News. Mission is also connected with Evangelisation. But what do these powerful words mean that have created good realities, but also destroyed lives, peoples, groups, wisdoms? Words that sustained healing and liberation processes, but also justified genocide and oppression. To our Latin American ears, the word “mission” comes loaded with negativity, with colonialism clothed as evangelisation and good news, violence and genocide disguised as catechesis and enlightenment. That should make us think when, in the 21st century, we say again and put ourselves back “on a mission.”

The mission is God's own, a strong presence and liberating life and political practices that seek life and the guarantee of the rights of human beings and the planet. We participate by vocation, it is imperative to heed the call. Jesus taught us that mission does not consist so much in what we say, but in what we do. “By their fruit you will know them” (Mt 7:16). “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21). The apostolic Churches emphasized this fundamental characteristic of Christian life: “Be doers of the Word” (James 1:22). All that does not conform to these principles is a pseudo-gospel, the tragic deception of a “barren faith.”

Mission is the action of Jesus, the Christ, God incarnate, and this is an action of love. Love is the central element of mission: gratuitous, eccentric, transgressive, caring and daring. “And if I had prophecy and understood all the mysteries and all the science, and if I had all faith, so that I would move the mountains and have no love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13: 2).

The Gospel tells us that Jesus began by proclaiming a message about his kingdom; the very centre of that message is not ultimately what he said, but what he was and did. Mission is action directed toward this task and God’s design. Personal participation in this struggle constitutes the essence of the Christian response. If we do not partake with Christ in the very situations in which people suffer, we will inevitably come to a distorted and agnostic theology, as if salvation were due to a correct knowledge (ortho–teaching) rather than just action, that is, divine action (orthopraxis).

Thus, weak participation leads to a weak theology, a dangerous dualism that would separate people's religious identity from their secular reality, and would thus perpetuate a false awareness of the nature of sin and the oppression that Christ came to destroy. Rather, real participation leads to an authentically incarnate and biblical theology and an authentic understanding and practice of mission.

Mission consists essentially in living the Christian life with Jesus, feeling ourselves in solidarity with all humanity. Mission is the task of leavening the whole of God's creation, the human community. The content of this action is the life of the Kingdom, that is, to make the reality of the Lordship of Christ effective in the life of the world.

Healing breaking bodies, building bridges[v]

A crucial theological concept held by churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), and a key life experience for believers, is that God always takes the initiative and comes to meet us; he delivers us himself, because God is love and compassionate (1 Jn 4.19; Ho 1-3, 11). God’s gift of himself is unconditional in a twofold sense: he does not set conditions, nor does he accept constraints.

Many churches in LAC are developing ways of making disciples for the Kingdom of God by empowering people and communities to strive for transformation of inequality and violence. The Anglican Diocese of Honduras, for instance, has developed an educational programme and family gardening project, gathering people from poor communities and covering themes like the Bible, leadership, ecclesiastical management, and Anglican identity, as well as helping them to develop better and sustainable techniques for family farming or gardening and climate awareness by not using chemicals on land. One important key feature here is taking the initiative and making church present where the need is, where the most vulnerable require love and service (diaconia).[vi]

As Christians, the Bible is one of the main sources of our faith and truly inspiration for our mission. The God’s revelation through Jesus, the Christ (Is 40-55: suffering servant; not Is 1-39: King), inspires churches in the region to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rm 12:2).

By reading the Bible with communities we transform lives and strengthen faith. As follows, I will give an example of a reading I did with some groups in Latin America, based on a well-known gospel story.

The Samaritan: a request to engage for changing

Jesus, responding to a doctor's question about the commandments of God, recalls that the key to attaining eternal life is to love God above all things and our neighbour as ourselves. Love that is not, in Jewish and Christian spirituality, merely an abstract sentiment, but one that conforms to the behaviour and political stands that the members of the community take. Even though he had spoken the obvious, which any religious Jew of the day would know, the doctor of law was troubled and insisted on the debate, wondering who would then be the next to be loved with such love. Here we need to look carefully at the question asked by the doctor of the law: “and who is my neighbour?” (Lk 10:29). The question posed in this way understands the neighbour from the perspective of the believer, of the people who wish to follow the commandment. The neighbour to be loved would be the one who is close to the believer.

In a brilliant literary articulation, Luke shows Jesus reversing not only words, but the very logic of following the commandment of love. Jesus at the end of the parable asks: “Who was the neighbour to the person who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (v. 36). The neighbour must, then, necessarily be understood no longer from the believer's perspective (or his belief), but from the context, the conditions of need and suffering.

Jesus announces, therefore, that the challenge is not to discover who is our neighbour and then to love him, but to become ourselves close to those who are in need, to those who are fallen by the side of the road, because of the love that exists in us. The neighbour ceases to be those who believe as I do, think as I do, belong to the same group as mine. The neighbour becomes precisely that person who is different from me, unknown, in an unequal difference that puts her in a situation of suffering, violence and, eventually, death. And s/he points to the imperative of immediate and public action, even if that means confronting established paradigms and moral norms practiced in their contexts. Challenging what is established is one of the callings that Christian people must meet.

The action of these characters converges on the Samaritan person. Three of the nine verses of the account are devoted to describing the dynamics of the Samaritan's care for the fallen man: A certain Samaritan, on the road, came to him, saw him, and was moved with compassion. He came near, took care of his wounds, pouring oil and wine, then placed him on his own animal, bringing him to the inn and took care of him. (see. vv. 33s)

The first two verbs (came near and saw), retain the previous formula of the priest and the Levite. The difference about the Samaritan begins when he is moved with compassion. Jesus “was moved with compassion” over and over again. Compassion causes eccentric movement, outside of myself and my context, beyond my comfort zone. This first movement, a movement of compassion and mercy, unleashes a series of actions, care, that complete the mathematical (and symbolic!) chain of seven verbs (move, come near, care, pour, place, bring, take care).[vii]

Luke, in presenting the way of Jesus as a way of love of neighbour, of mercy, invites (summons) us to turn our mission into a mission of care. Turning the message of Jesus into actions, not just words or speeches. The Word of God, which is Jesus and his message, must translate into actions, verbs: it is about suffering along with the fallen people by the side of the road, and taking care of them, recovering their life (resuscitating them). Likewise, when nature groans and weeps and waits for redemption. 

Remaining in the journey TOGETHER[viii]

Irenaeus of Lyons, a 2nd -century bishop affirmed in his time that “the glory of God is the living man.” This categorical affirmation reflects the influence of the prophetic tradition on his spirituality. To defend life is to give glory to God. That is why the prophetic movement and the whole tradition of the Christian Churches have in their deposit of faith and spirituality the inseparability of faith and politics (public order).

In Luke’s Gospel, mercy is presented as a principle according to which the rising church (and that of all times) must organize itself.[ix] Mercy is the call (and the inspiring and conspiratorial testimony) for churches and social movements to tread the way toward the other, especially the other battered and injured, excluded from the tables (all people have access to the table and to Jesus: full life – Mk 7: 24-31) and the minimal possibilities of being able to live a dignified life, concerning the spirit of Creation.

The gospel understands the mission of the churches as a mission of mercy, of loving pursuit of one's neighbour. This requires political engagement and influencing public arenas in our contexts. We need, as activists of the Kingdom and of Prophecy, and this takes place in the public arena, to firmly and eccentrically celebrate the missionary nature of faith and the demand for the involvement of our bodies, minds, and discourses in the social movements searching for rights.
MISSION, therefore, IS THE ACTION OF GOD. The witness of the scriptures shows us very clearly that Jesus taught us that mission is not so much what we say but what we do. “By their fruits you will know them” (Mt 7:16). “Not everyone that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but they that do the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21). Mission is the task of fermenting the whole of God's creation, the human community.

Whoever waits in Christ cannot continue to accept reality as it presents itself, but they begin to suffer its consequences and to oppose it. Peace with God will mean conflict with the world. Christians belong to Christ, not to Caesar (Mt 22:17–22 and parallels). “They cannot serve two masters” (Mt 6:24). They have a commitment to establish the values of the Kingdom. There is no other possibility than resisting the forces of evil. Their vocation is characterized by this imperative of resistance. Resistance is an attitude in defence of the fullness of life. It is every attitude, it is action, individual and collective, that opposes the forces that threaten human beings and the creative work of God in the world (among these concrete threats are economic exploitation, marginalization and persecution of people).

How beautiful and infinite are Your names, O Lord God.

You are called by the name

Of our deepest desires.

If plants could pray

They would invoke the images of their most beautiful flowers

And would say that you have the sweetest perfume.

To the butterflies You would be a butterfly,

The most beautiful of all, the most brilliant colors,

And your universe a garden...

Those who are cold call you Sun...

Those dying in the desert

Say that your name is the Fountain of the Waters.

Orphans say you have a Mother's face...

The poor invoke you as Bread and Hope.

God, name of our desires...

As many names as we have hopes and desires...

Poem. Dream. Mystery.[x]


[i] Paulo Ueti lives in Brasilia–DF/Brazil and is a philosopher and Bible Scholar, professor of biblical theology and spirituality, Theological Advisor and Regional Facilitator for Latin America of the Anglican Alliance and member of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (IEAB), worshiping at the Anglican Cathedral of Brasilia. He is also a member of the Ecumenical Centre for Biblical Studies (CEBI), the Brazilian Association of Biblical Research (ABIB) and a collaborator of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and Via Campesina International. Email:

[ii] ALVES, Rubem. Eu creio na ressurreição do Corpo. São Paulo, SP: Paulus, 1984.

[iii] Taken from the Strategic plan of Anglican Alliance (document not published).

[iv] Here it is important to mention particularly Bishop Bill Godfrey, former bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Peru, South America Province of the Anglican Communion.

[vii] In the next verse (v. 35), the mathematics of seven verbs is repeated: “The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the inn–keeper, saying: Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, on my return I will pay you.”

[viii] Inspired by the document on mission by Urban Rural Mission. Geneva: WCC, 1986.

[ix] See SOBRINO, J. La Iglesia samaritana y el principio–misericordia. Santander: Sal Terrae, D.L., 1992.

[x] ALVES, Rubem (org.). CultoArte: celebrando a vida - advento/natal/epifania. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1999.

Dr Paulo Ueti

Dr Paulo Ueti



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