Learning the Grammar of Partnership: Reflections on Church Worker Justice
Thoughts on Church Worker Justice by Don Pribor, CTA’s new Church Worker Justice
Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si’ : On Care For Our Common Home” recognizes that
global warming and ecological destruction are the most serious challenges facing humanity.
Without a fundamental change in how humans relate to the earth, the human family will destroy
the natural processes that enable us to survive and to thrive. Our very future is at stake.
Thanks to Call To Action’s relationship with the Woori Theological Institute in Seoul, South
Korea under the leadership of Dr. Paul Hwang, I was able to attend the first days of an annual
conference of young Asian Catholics and Asian Catholic theologians that was held in Manila,
Philippines in August, 2015. At this conference, I met an Indian Catholic feminist theologian,
Dr. Kochurani Abraham. Kochurani was acting as a theological consultant for the Catholic youth
forum and she was scheduled to give a talk at the theological conference on the Church’s role in
supporting the future of families in Asia in light of the global ecological crisis.
Over breakfast one morning, Kochurani shared with me the main points of the talk that she was
going to deliver later in the week. Her question to the Church was what kind of family is the
Church going to support – a gendered, hierarchical family structure, or a family of mutual,
egalitarian relationships? Kochurani had the insight that the way out of the ecological crisis is for
humans to have a relationship of mutuality with the earth- humans need the earth as much as
the earth needs us. Humans need to live in partnership with the earth in order for us to live in
societies that are sustainable.
But if humans do not live in families that are based on mutuality and if the Church is not a
community of mutual relationships, we will not know how to have a partnership relationship with
the earth. Kochurani said that the Church needs to be sustainable – it must learn the grammar of
partnership. Present Church structures need to change to allow space for developing a
partnership ethic. The Church must let go of one way of organizing itself in order to make room
for another way of organizing the community.
Kochurani shared with me a saying from her region of India that she learned as a child: if you want to pick a mango from the tree above your roof, you have to let go of what are you holding under your arm in your armpit. She explained that if the Church has a vision of interrelatedness and partnership with the earth as is expressed in “Laudato Si’ “, it has to begin living out this vision in its own structures, otherwise it will never be able to help humanity live this kind of relationship with the earth.
Kochurani’s insight has everything to do with church worker justice. When Church workers are
not treated justly, when a diversity of views among church workers is not respected,
a partnership ethic of mutuality is not being modeled by the Church. Instead, relationships of
domination and coercion predominate. Just as we can see in in the Indian proverb, a Church
that wants to reach up for a relationship of mutuality with the earth has to let go of the
relationships of domination and coercion that it is holding under its armpit.
We at Call to Action love our Church and we believe that our Church can be a model of
just,mutual relationships for all of humanity. Out of love for our Church and in the hope of a
better future for the human family, Call To Action will continue to advocate for just working
conditions for Church workers and for relationships between Church leaders and church
workers that are rooted in a partnership ethic. As Kochurani Abraham expressed in her
conversation with me, the Church needs to learn the grammar of partnership. Together with
Church leaders and all Church members, Call To Action will strive to learn more deeply what it
means to live out relationships of justice and mutuality in partnership with one another.