CHALLENGES FACING THE CONTEMPORARY CHURCH POSED BY POSTMODERN THEOLOGIANS IN MALAWI AND THEIR POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

Introduction
The Contemporary Church is facing a number of challenges posed by the postmodern theologians who have a number of questions trying to harmonise the Church Doctrine and the rising contemporary issues. Christians would wish the gospel was so easy to share to the unbelieving communities but this is not the case with rising contemporary issues today. The Church in Malawi is facing serious challenges which are of great concern to Christian religion. Some of these challenges are hereby discussed below.

Homosexuality and Christian Ethics
In the past the issue of homosexuality was a story in Malawi until 2010 when a gay couple came to open to knot their union on public. Tionge Chimbalanga and Steven Muonjeza, claimed to be in love and were set for traditional marriage ceremony. This stirred mixed reactions from the government, the church and organisations. The two were arrested and charged with indecency and sentenced 14 years in prison. UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon intervened and the two were pardoned by the late president Bingu wa Mutharika. Since then, Malawi has been pressurised by Human Rights Organisations to legalise homosexuality while the church is of the contrary opinion labelling the move as sinful and unnatural.

The question has also been its validity as a practice for Christians (Zuck, 1994, p. 92) since others are expecting church ministers to officiate and bless such a union. Malawi is one of the poorest nations in the world. This has encouraged leaders to be desperate of aid from other countries to help fulfil the country’s budget. Unfortunately most aids we have been receiving are having strings which are unbearable of which one of it is promoting gay rights. In November 2012, Malawi government succumbed to pressure and suspended anti-gay laws and ordered the police not to arrest people who commit homosexual acts (Mapondera, 2012) as a way to get aid from countries such as America and Britain. This has been a great challenge to Church leaders in Malawi because the government suspended these laws against the will of the people and goes against Christian ethics. While church leaders are saying that this is against God’s natural design of sexuality human rights groups are saying that it is people’s choice and right. To make matters worse postmodern theologians are compromising this issue depending on some science research which say that to some people, sexual attraction towards own sex is driven by biological makeup which is opposite to their own gender.

Legalising Abortion
Legalising abortion has also been a challenge to Malawian contemporary church. Of late there has been a heated debate as to whether abortion should be legalised or not. Church leaders are saying that, abortion is as the same as killing because life begins at conception while the human rights groups and postmodern theologians are saying that it is one’s choice to have a baby or not so abortion should be allowed to those who have unwanted pregnancies. I also wrote an article on online media where I emphasised that, it is better to intensify the message of abstinence other than killing the innocent upcoming life. Others agreed with me while others not, arguing that some men just impregnate women and run away from responsibility so it is better for a woman to abort than taking a sole responsibility over the acts of the two. As of now, the NGOs are drafting the bill for the parliament to consider legalising abortion while the church is against it. While postmodern theologians such as Virginia Ramey Mollenkott argue that nowhere does the bible prohibit abortion, Francis J. Beckwith notes that “the bible refers to the unborn in the same way it refers to infants and young children” and he draws Luke 1:41, 44 as reference where the word “baby” applied to the unborn (Zuck, 1994, p. 46) .

Constitutional Rights
Another challenge facing the church in Malawi posed by contemporary theologians is that of constitutional rights. People are beginning to put much faith on the republican constitution than on the bible, Quran or any other religious book. Some people including women are saying that, the bible is oppressive to them while the constitution is protecting and promoting their rights. They are saying that, the bible is full of patriarchal culture which is not gender friendly. The church is saying that the bible is above the constitution while contemporary theologians in Malawi are looking at Malawi as not a Christian nation; as such the bible is not above the constitution. This is because the constitution does not state that Malawi is a Christian state but clear on its sovereignty Chapter 1.1 (The Republic of Malawi Constitution, 2006, p. 1).

Legalising Atheism
Promotion of atheism has become a recent concern to the church in Malawi. The group called Association of Secular Humanism (Ash) is pushing its way into the registration and legalisation of this Association which has been receiving resistance from the government. The church sees humanism as Satanic which is intended to mislead God’s people by promoting evil. The humanists are also claiming constitutional rights. Recently, two Human Rights Non-Governmental Organisations accused government of violating rights of people belonging to this Association (Chiumia, 2013). The challenge is that, sin and ungodliness is entering the church in the name of human rights. The church also finds it challenging to convince a postmodern theologian on the existence of God alongside evils and yet Hick using the theory of theodicy points out that the existence of evil is a result of the fall of man due to his disobedience (Hick, 1977, p. 9). Man invited evil by disobeying God.

Religion and Politics
The other challenge facing the contemporary church by postmodern theologians in Malawi is the justification of the recent trend in which religious leaders are joining frontline politics. The former president of Assemblies of God in Malawi who served on this position for the past 24 years joined frontline politics and was on 10th August elected Malawi Congress Party (MCP) 2014 torchbearer (Sonani, 2013). Some postmodern theologians are in support of the move saying that it is better to be led by God fearing people than crooks while others are saying that, a pastor doesn’t need to abandon his flock for politics to bring change in the country for he/she can do that by distant advice. Church leaders fear that if this continues, the church will lose many ministers for political positions whereby compromising God’s work. Postmodern theologians are also supporting such a move based on the definition of the term “politics” which is “the art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs” (The Free On-line Dictionary, 2013) and there is nothing evil about it. I agree with postmodern theologians on this issue believing that leadership is given by God and as long as one remains faith to Him while in politics, there is nothing wrong about it.

Gender Roles and Equality
“Gender equality is the measurable equal representation of women and men. Gender equality does not imply that women and men are the same, but that they have equal value and should be accorded equal treatment” (International Planned Parenthood Federation, 2013). While the bible states that wives should submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives (Ephesians 5:22-26), postmodern feminist theologians allege that the bible is gender biased, its teachings are based on patriarchal culture. On 29th July, 2013, women rights activist, Seodi White lambasted President Joyce Banda for advising women not to misunderstand gender by being rude to their husbands to avoid ruining their marriages just as others have done. She alleged that the president was promoting patriarchal culture where men dominate. This is the understanding of many postmodern theologians which pose a challenge to the church. The truth is that the bible does not encourage oppression or gender inequality but rather oneness and sameness before God. The church is finding it a challenge to promote biblical truth on gender issues alongside feminists’ presuppositions.

Poverty
Poverty is associated with lack of basic needs such as food, shelter and clothes which support one’s everyday living. In Malawi poverty is absolute and abject. Over 50% of the population live under poverty line with many of them living in rural areas and depending on farming. Dr. Patrick Marai in his book, “It is expensive to be poor: a Christian perspective” points a number of things why poverty is not morally right. Among them are; it is a universal church destroyer, disempowers the church, it bequeaths an inferiority complex, it is not one of God’s attributes and that it paints God as being happy in one’s suffering (Marai, 2011, p. 55). Marai also notes that “no colonial master would have colonised educated and rich people” (Marai, 2011, p. 53). Poverty is not a church challenge posed by postmodern theologians but rather its one factor hindering the church to reach and convince the postmodernists who argue that if God is love and fair, he wouldn’t allow some people to be rich while others poor. No church with lack of resources can reach unsaved people for God’s Kingdom. To spread the gospel to the end of the world, the church needs to be rich.

HIV/AIDS and Sin
The issue of HIV/AIDS as a disease is no longer a secret issue. People are now learning about HIV/AIDS from primary school and yet, it remains the world’s most sexually transmitted disease. The challenge of HIV/AIDS is not for the government only but the church also. HIV/AIDS is a challenge to the church since most people infected and affected are church members. Before now, the church considered those infected as sinners. It considered them as people who have the habit of changing sexual partners at will but the concept was challenged by the postmodern theologians who argued that the church’s call is to show love to all people regardless of their healthy status. The postmodernists have taken it upon themselves to teach about HIV/AIDS with some of them encouraging the use of condom as a way to reduce the infection of this disease which is against Christian ethics mostly to the singles. This is as a result of churches silence on this subject. Of late the church has now realised that not all people infected with this disease practice sexual immorality. Drawing from Mark 1:40-42, the church has a challenge to reach out to these people without segregation or prejudice. The church has to preach the word of encouragement and yet many church denominations are silent taking it as shameful subject to tackle.

Tribalism and Nepotism
Tribalism and nepotism are also a serious challenge to the church in Malawi. A good example is the long-time wrangle between Nkhoma and Livingstonia Synods of Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP). Nkhoma Synod covers central region of Malawi where the majority of Chewas, the large tribe in Malawi is dominant while Livingstonia Synod covers northern part of Malawi where the majority of its members are of Tumbuka tribe. The two synods have been in a border dispute with Livingstonia planting churches within the administrative boundary of Nkhoma synod saying that Tumbuka speaking people who live within the borders of Nkhoma Synod should have a Tumbuka speaking congregation as opposed to the Chewa speaking churches (Kaonga, 2007). The dispute is caused by tribalism and not the boundary as it appears. The postmodern theologians in Malawi say that there is nothing wrong with Livingstonia Synod planting churches within the boundaries of Nkhoma Synod citing the convenience of language. CCAP is one church with three administrative boundaries as Livingstonia, Nkhoma and Blantyre Synods. The general church has a challenge to solve the conflict of which its previous efforts have proved futile.

Legalising Commercial Sex
The contemporary church in Malawi is really under pressure of many ungodly issues emerging in the country. Despite commercial sex being illegal in Malawi, at the beginning of this year, commercial sex workers formed an Association of Commercial Sex Workers (ACSW) which is intended to promote and protect rights of commercial sex workers. They said that the association has been formed as a result of sex workers being mistreated by the police and their clients who sleep with them and at the end, they are never paid. The challenge posed to the contemporary church is on how to stop this development without confronting the government machinery. Some sex workers vow never to stop practising commercial sex citing financial challenges because of unemployment and marriage breakups. The main fears of the church however is that, the association will promote promiscuity in the country diverting many young girls from morality. In addition, once commercial sex is legalised, the church will find it hard to condemn such acts and also sexually transmitted disease will increase since many other girls and women will join the business with no fears of being arrested as it has been in the past. The church will also lose its members through HIV/AIDS related diseases since the disease will not spare the church as a result of promiscuity. Postmodernists argue that if the church wants prostitution to end, it should find alternative means for sex workers to earn a living.

Possible Solutions to the Challenges Facing the Church
Though most of these challenges have been recurrent while others just emerging, I would like to suggest possible solutions which the contemporary church can adopt to deal with such. The challenges of Homosexuality, Legalising Abortion, HIV/AIDS and Legalising Commercial Sex are mostly a manifestation of moral decadence. The church cannot win the battle by confrontation but rather being consciously close to them in order to understand the reasons which influence them indulge in such behaviours. The church needs to establish a ministry which will be closer to these people so that they can open up more especially on their background which might have led to what they do today. The church should come up with sports clubs to draw these people closer so that in the process, they can teach them the love of God and the danger of immoral behaviour. Where possible, let the church give financial assistance to sex workers to start legal businesses, thus to those who are in it as a result of unemployment and poverty.

For this to be realised, the church should engage in serious businesses besides tithe to generate more money. The church should teach in depth God’s design of marriage and sexuality in cases of homosexuality and premarital sex which is the main cause of early pregnancies leading to abortions. HIV/AIDS is also promoted by sexual immorality though not all infected are in that category. In this case, while discouraging the use of condoms, the church should promote abstinence to realise reduction of early pregnancies and HIV infection. Let the church engage young people in church programmes to cultivate their commitment to the things of God which help them to easily avoid sexual immorality. Married couples should be taught in its depth, the importance of fidelity and the danger of countering it. This can be done by having church family days on which married couples come together and share their experiences/problems and discuss how to deal with such while the pastor can bring biblical teachings on the same.

While sexual immorality is sin, the emphasis should not be on sin but tactual physical, social and psychological harm of such behaviours as a pre-requisite to sharing the gospel. Programmes should be put in place to help those already infected such as counselling and loans for them to be self-supporting.
On issues of constitutional rights, legalising atheism and gender roles and equality, the church can address them by convincing people that the bible is still relevant to contemporary generation. This should be done noting that not all are Christians and so, let the church teach unbelievers by example. An atheist may come to Christ after seeing the significant difference in behaviour between Christians and none believers. The church should advise that the constitution is there to unite people and not to divide them by letting each one do as it pleases to obviate chaos in the country. On gender roles, the church should desist from emphasising that the husband is the head of the family but rather, a companion to his wife. As companions, they should agree on what to do and what not to. On such, counselling sessions and teachings needs to be established within the church and outside.

On the challenge of religious leaders joining frontline politics, the church’s fear is that most of them forget God and their Christian values after joining politics. It should be made clear that, there is nothing wrong for a Christian joining frontline politics provided one is driven by the right motives. Let Christians be urged that, the ministry of sharing the gospel is the noble task and so, if one is to join politics, he should do so with the motive of bringing positive change in corrupt politics for the betterment of God’s people. The name of the Lord should not be put to shame by one’s desires.
On poverty, the church should institute some teachings in the church that will help people run their businesses and be self-reliant. Poverty is a set back to the ministry of the gospel and the church should not tolerate it. While not promoting prosperity gospel above the saving one, the church should have some sessions in which people can learn how to earn a living. Where possible, let the church have a loan account and help its members to start small-scale businesses which will help them get out of poverty and as mentioned above the church should also run businesses to manage such programmes.

The church should by all cost prevent tribalism and nepotism to avoid shaming God’s kingdom like what Livingstonia and Nkhoma Synods did. The church should be in forefront to fight tribalism and nepotism by emphasising that in the kingdom of God, there are no tribes, races, regions and communities. We are all one in Christ. Nkhoma and Livingstonia Synods should have respected their administrative boundaries and allow each other to run churches of different languages in their respective Synods’ boundaries. Let people work together in diversity. When the church promotes unity, the country will be united. The church can also suggest constitutional provision on public appointments so that all tribes and regions have fair share.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I would like to encourage the church not to leave these challenges in the hands of government or politicians alone. Many things have been messed up by politicians as a result of the church distancing itself from such challenges. The church should work together with the state to deal with challenges that affect both. Church leaders should note that, what affects the state affects the church too.

Bibliography
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Hick, J. (1977). Evil and the God of Love. New York: Herper & Row, Publishers.
International Planned Parenthood Federation. (2013). What is Gender Equality. Retrieved September 7, 2013, from International Planned Parenthood Federation: http://ippf.org/our-work/what-we-do/gender/what-gender-equality
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The Republic of Malawi Constitution. (2006). The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi . Lilongwe: Republic of Malawi.
Zuck, R. B. (1994). Vtal Contemporary Issues: Examining Current Questions & Controversies. Kregel Resources: Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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