Can Theology Audit Organisations? (Action-Reflection from field work)

My friend and colleague David Chronic (lives and works in Romania and is the regional director Word Made Flesh ) http://www.wordmadeflesh.org/romania/2010/04/the-situation-in-romania-2010/

David is new to our Child Theology Blog. We had a long Skype call the other night about the role of theology in serving poor families and children in his setting, Galati, Romania. I used the term in our conversation ‘theological audit’

He sent me an interesting question: ‘What would be some good questions to ask an organization for a theological audit’.

I know this is a broad question but between our Blog members you could offer David some suggestion.

I am going to attach a short section of something I wrote in my thesis that put David’s organization (World Made Flesh) in a possible scenario where theology was used in an ‘Action Reflection Cycle.’

In the meantime – what are your thoughts on questions that shape a theological audit?

My thoughts on Action – Reflection from field work in Romania and the Role for Theology:

9.1 Reflection and Action in partnership

In response to my challenge for more critical theological reflection and integration, I suggest a method of ‘action and reflection’ in FBO-church partnership.  This is a process of learning or pedagogy, ‘recognition that when people act, their action affects the way they think about that action; likewise, reflecting in a new way creates receptivity for further and more adventurous action’ (Linthicum, 1991:61). Action and reflection feed on another; action can lead to insightful reflection which results in more informed action.

This is diagramed here and adopted from Linthicum. The image is a learning spiral – described in the text below

reflection

 

 

I will interpret the chart using an example from my field work with a brief extrapolation. Word Made Flesh and a local church perceive the needs of Roma children living on the streets in their community. The FBO responds to perceived needs of children begging on the streets by opening a day shelter. The FBO provides funding and training; the church offers people to work in the shelter. As their joint action continues, the partners meet to reflect and ask questions about outcomes. Once the children’s immediate needs are met, the partnership can ask more penetrating questions such as ‘what is happening in the families of the children on the streets, what are the hopes of mothers for their children?’ This leads to action aimed at family interventions where the church and FBO become more involved with the Roma community, possibly discovering that families have no knowledge of how to gain access to public education or that the children are prevented from attending school.

The partnership action shifts to a deeper level addressing Roma access to public schools. In the process, they learn many children lack proper identity papers and are excluded from school – now the partnership engages civic authorities. The reflection continues with theological acuity.

New questions emerge: what most honours God in addressing the human and spiritual needs of these children, how does the gospel address the sense of hopelessness and ‘marred identity’ (Christian, 1999) in the Roma community? How does the humanity of a child in the eyes of God influence joint action and prayer? The church re-examines its narrow view of evangelism, and the FBO re-examines its role as both social and theological advocate for the suffering child. Together the partners search the scriptures with a ‘child in the midst’. This encourages dialogue about the implications of the kingdom for both social-structural change whist recognizing and embracing the exclusion, suffering, and uncertainty of the child and Roma community. The cross takes on deeper significance as the partners pray ‘thy kingdom come’; the partnership is changed through this process.

As a result of theological refection, the partners examine their common humanity in light of Christ, they identify their complicity in falling short of the glory of God, they recognize and rejoice in the grace of God both for themselves and the children, they discuss how children have been sinned against, they embrace these tensions while taking reasonable action and mutual responsibility. This process, as described, unmasks the ‘illusions that masquerade as reality’ (Palmer, 2000); it encourages patience with humanity as partners proceed mindful of pain and hope, suffering and joy as integral to a ‘holistic gospel’. Ambiguity and uncertainty are embraced as aspects of faith-based care.

The partnership may decide to confront the school system or the economic system that keeps Roma families bound in poverty, but they do so with a mutual submission to Christ, the gospel, to one another, and in solidarity with the community. As this process continues, then FBO-churches may reflect on the implications of the gospel for political, economic, religious, and social systems of the community and wider context. These fallen human systems call the church forward in mission. The child acts as a catalyst and ‘pointer’. Growing knowledge of Christ, the child, and the world eventually conscientizes the partnership to continued action and reflection as it expresses the Agape of God to this community.

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