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October 01, 2010


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Gordon Ramsay

I wonder if it is time to have a competition across the UCA to come up with the best plain English translation. And then a twitter translation!!

Maureen Howland

And an sms txt version? The mind boggles. Nevertheless... plain English, what a God idea! :)

John T.

There are some deeper questions as to what language, in particular the English language, actually is.

Meaning does not reside in language, meaning resides in the consciousness of the speaker and the hearer. Language is just a symbol that triggers the memory of the pre-existing concept.

If the consciousness and cultural understanding of the speaker is different to the hearer then the one symbol can have two different meanings. e.g. "the good shepherd", whatever language it is translated into, means one thing to tribal indigenous shepherds, another to industrial sheep farmers and another to Aboriginal people forced to work without wages on industrial sheep farms.

It is not just the words that need translating but the underlying concepts and consciousness that needs to be translated.

This raises some difficult issues. If a document such as the basis of union is to be really understood, it is not just the dictionary meanings that need to be understood but also the whole historical experience of church culture. Many of the issues of the basis of union, just like the Nicene creed, take their meaning from a common understanding of the issues of the church at the time of writing.

The sort of social and moral crises and inspirations that catalyse church documents are bound up totally within the culture of not just the church but of the development of the culture of European empire. Many now in the church do not share this history and have grappled with very different issues in their relationships to God.

To what extent does explaining the full context and meaning of the basis of union, with the expectation of adherence to that document, manifest as cultural imperialism?

Are we promoting to non-Anglo people a theology of Anglo culture in translating the collective experience of the Anglo church into their language?

Keeping in mind the fact that the bible was not written in an Anglo or western context, are we insisting that the cultural experience of the Anglo church is the defining template of all truth in the church?

If so, then the translation of the basis of union is no less a colonial project than early missionaries translating the bible into indigenous languages in order to civilise the heathen.

We have to be honest about what the church, in particular the Uniting Church actually is. It is a product of the history and consciousness of white Europeans who from time to time intervene in the realities of other cultures but totally within the consciousness and documents of the western church.

As we discuss core issues of the church's life, such as who is God? Who is Jesus? Who is the church? we should bring our cultural baggage to the discussions and compare it with the the cultural baggage of others. We need to listen to and have translations of the lived experience of God in other cultures rather than simply translating our own historical understandings into other languages and cultures as a universal paradigm.

So I reckon, instead of translating the basis of union into other contexts, it should be a discussion point to explore how the core teachings and affirmations of the church need to change in order to accommodate and reflect the diverse lived experiences of God that have developed within the church in recent decades.

Geoff Hurst

>To what extent does explaining the full context and meaning of the basis of union, with the expectation of adherence to that document, manifest as cultural imperialism?

Eh? I always worry when a response is longer than the original post.

The basis of union in current english? That gets my vote.

John T.


Here is an example that might clarify what I am getting at....

The proposed new preamble states

"The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways."

There are obvious challenges in trying to reconcile this statement with the Nicene Creed of the Basis of Union which are very explicit about what is and is not correct doctrine and who exactly the people of God are.

If the attempt to reconcile the two is a matter if imposing the documents onto the indigenous experience or forcing the indigenous experience to be described in terms of the documents - then we have cultural imperialism.

An interesting read is Rev. Graham Paulson's essay "Towards and Aboriginal theology"

In this, Rev. Paulson states...

"The first (impediment to indigenous theology) is an assumption that Christianity is in- extricable from its Western cultural frameworks and it therefore under- mines the integrity of Aboriginal identity and cultural expression."


"“What I do intend to discuss are the key
features of a biblical theology that relate especially to Indigenous
cultures. The focus will be on biblical principles not just because I am a Protestant, but because the development of theology in the Pacific region is weighed down by a history of colonialism. One way of over-coming the effects of this history is to engage with the biblical literature, rather than Western theology, with resources drawn from our own spiritual traditions.”

What is significant about the preamble, if it is passed, is that it acknowledges and affirms a different theological understanding and history rather than imposing a universal template.

The difference between Aboriginal theology and Roman theology is not simply a matter of translating words. e.g. Although there is a common and universal essence in the description of the breath of the Eloihim in Genesis and the movement of the Rainbow serpent in many Aboriginal cultures - the two cannot be reconciled by any Roman trinitarian formula. The very concept of God that underlies the church documents is a Roman construct (based on the Hellenic Theos/Zeus architype) and not a universal truth. The perception of God reflected in the BAsis of Union is no less a cultural construct than the breath of the Eloihim or the Rainbow serpent.

The bible gives us a concept of the universal God. God tells Moses to tell the people that the name of God is - I AM (Yahwey). This existential reality of God is what is behind all cultural descriptions of God. To raise a cultural description of God to a position of universal truth is simply idolatry.

The preamble is an example of unity through the affirmation of diversity. This is a different mode altogether than the mode of church documents such as the Nicene Creed or Basis of Union in that their unity is based on uniformity and conformity - the imperial/colonial mode.

Sorry for another long comment but somethings are a bit too complicated to fit into a nutshell or a text message.


What about a children's story book format? Someone challenged me to write one in Sept 2010 but haven't got round to it yet

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