By Toya Richards
In a post-9/11 context where religious suspicion reigns, it is critical to recognize the role mission can play in healing the world, said The Rev. Dr. Titus Presler in his lecture at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
“Mission is ministry in the dimension of difference,” the Episcopal missiologist said. So how might missional Christians be called to respond to the “clash of civilizations” that has been confirmed since the attacks of 9/11, he queried.
Canon Presler, the former president of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, was the guest lecturer for the Henry H. and Marion A. Presler Lectureship on Christian World Mission, held October 21, 2010. The lecture honors the Presler couple, Titus Presler’s parents, for their many years of missionary service and lifts up issues of global mission.
The Preslers served as missionaries in theological education for almost 25 years in India. Dr. Henry Presler studied for two years at LPTS and then transferred to Boston University School of Theology. In his later years he remembered his formative time at Louisville Seminary and left a bequest for this lectureship.
The Presler Lectureship is part of the larger Edwards-Presler Lectures on peace, justice, and mission held annually at Louisville Seminary in the fall, and the 2010 event marked the fifth anniversary of the combined lectureship. The Edwards Peacemaking Lectureship honors Dr. George Edwards (BD ’51) and his wife, Jean, for their work for peace and social justice. Edwards, who died in June 2010, also served the Seminary for 27 years as Professor of New Testament.
Titus Presler spoke on the topic, “Mission in the Shadow of 9/11: Thinking Witness a Decade Later,” and contended that in the time since the events of September 11, 2001, religious mission has not received sufficient attention. He pointed out that “9/11 was a mission event,” and that the attackers sought to project a certain face of Islam to the world through it. Not recognizing 9/11 as a missional event shields people from seeing how their own behavior could morph into such actions, Presler said.
Often, Christians try to segregate 9/11 from mission, yet sealing it off from mission “blinds us,” he said. As long as mission stays off the table, “9/11’s shadow lengthens.”
In his lecture, Presler, the author of Going Global with God: Reconciling Mission in a World of Difference (2010), said missional Christians might be called to respond in a number of ways. Included among those ways is to recognize difference as the starting place of mission.
“Difference is home territory for mission,” he said. The vocation of Christian mission is to meet difference and to be God’s companion in what God does with difference, which is to reconcile it, Presler said.
The world is dying because of difference, and mission’s vocation in difference is crucial for healing, he said.
Presler also stressed that in the conflict between Muslims and Christians, talking together about mission is essential. Muslims and others have theologically founded commitments to mission, and there needs to be talk about a “shared vocabulary” and about acceptance of each other’s activities, he said.
Coupled with dialogue also is witness, Presler said. They are “interdependent.”
“Telling stories is a communal activity,” and for Christians that means simply telling the story of what God has done in Christ Jesus. There is no real dialogue unless some story is told, and through that storytelling both sides grow and change, he said.