Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 10, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 2019)

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Majority World: A Minority Report (Editorial Preface to the Issue)

Greg McKinzie

Mine is not a Majority World voice. Indeed, the preface of this issue was meant to be written by a Majority World scholar. These things do not always unfold as planned, so I find myself pondering the most useful—and briefest—way to frame the articles marshalled under the heading “Majority World Voices.” My suspicion is that the title of the theme itself needs a comment or two.

From the perspective of an editor, the terminology is an interesting question. Third World was once in vogue, but it refers to a Cold War division of the world into First World (NATO countries), Second World (Communist Bloc countries), and everyone else.1 Aside from the fact that the Cold War ended some time ago, the numerical preeminence of the First World is a not-so-subtle hint as to the bias built into these categories.

Furthermore, the economic nature of the battle between capitalists and communists quickly led to a characterization of the Third World primarily in terms of “development” rather than geo-political alignment.2 The presumption of labeling the Third World as “underdeveloped” or “developing” (where “developed” refers largely to Western bourgeois lifestyle) has become clear.3 Yet, despite the problems of developmentalism, many persist in referring to the Developing World. I consider that categorization a nonstarter.

Others have hitched their jargon to roughly geographical designations. It turns out that many economically poor countries are south of the Equator, so Global South has gained currency. This has some merit, since East and West are widely used conventions. (Of course, on a spherical planet, those designations are not only arbitrary but say a great deal about who established the conventions: the East is only east of the West from the West’s perspective.) Frequently, however, non-Western also sneaks in, suggesting clearly the notion of Western normativity: there is Western culture and there are those that lack the quality of Westernness—non-Westerners. And, as it happens, some not-so-Western (and economically “developed”!) cultures are located north of the Equator. It seems to me that Global South is the sort of generalization that ends up being uselessly inaccurate.

Majority World, however, possesses the qualities of both accuracy and irony, the latter of which I find especially endearing. As a matter of mathematical fact, ostensibly Western cultures are a minority. Among Christians, especially those who attend to missiology, this fact accompanies another of great contemporary significance: the majority of the church now lives amidst the global majority. The irony, of course, is that the West is historically marked by a democratic ethos that grants the majority significant privilege. In view of these observations, Missio Dei prefers the terminology Majority World above other options (including similar contenders such as Two-Thirds World and Three-Fourths World, which seem pointlessly specific). For our purposes, the phrase Majority World appropriately touches upon the historic, joyous reality that the world church’s majority is now to be found among countries once called Third World, underdeveloped, and non-Western.4 Thanks be to God!

This issue seeks to amplify the voices of Majority World mission practitioners and scholars who identify with the Stone-Campbell Movement. These perspectives deserve special attention. Despite the numerical reality of the Majority World church, there are few in it who articulate their views according to the conventions that constrain Missio Dei, much less who can do so in English. We recognize, therefore, both the weakness and vulnerability of our position as publishers of English-language perspectives and the great privilege of hearing even a few voices of our sisters and brothers from Eswatini, South Korea, China, Nicaragua, Botswana, and Brazil.

No doubt, some things are lost in translation. And perhaps some are gained. In any case, our job as readers is to listen carefully, openly, and generously. To this task I commend our readers, with hope.

Soli Deo gloria.

1 For a thorough analysis, see B. R. Tomlinson “What Was the Third World?” Journal of Contemporary History 38, no. 2 (2003): 307–21.

2 A thick, if technical, discussion of the evolution of development language and theory can be found in Bengi Akbulut, Fikret Adaman, and Yahya M. Madra, “The Decimation and Displacement of Development Economics,” Development and Change 46, no. 4 (2015): 733–61.

3 Immanuel Wallerstein, “After Developmentalism and Globalization, What?” Social Forces 83, no. 3 (2005), 1264, states that by the height of developmentalism in the 1970s, “the term and the objective seemed virtually a piety.” As in the complex intertwining of Christian mission and the “civilizing mission” (1263) of colonialism, the moral dimensions of development have often obscured the (in retrospect) obviously imperialist assumptions about human good and social wellbeing, to say nothing of the rapacious interests of many who called for and invested in the development of economically weaker countries. So Wallerstein can claim without irony, “The whole discussion from 1945 to today has indeed been one long effort to take seriously the reality that the world-system is not only polarized but polarizing, and that this reality is both morally and politically intolerable” (1265). The broad ascription of these relatively noble motives does little, however, to mitigate the presumptuousness of defining the majority of the world by identifying it with is failure to achieve the West’s level of economic “progress.”

4 In this, Missio Dei follows a convention established at the The 2004 Lausanne Forum for World Evangelization. Timothy Tennent, Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), xix, writes: “The 2004 Lausanne Forum for World Evangelization, which I attended in Pattaya, Thailand, dedicated an entire working group to the theme, ‘The Two-Thirds World Church.’ It included participants from across the world, and one of their formal actions was to vote unanimously that the phrase ‘Majority World Church’ be used. This is the best phrase currently available.”