Perhaps not always, but I often feel that it is difficult for a lay person with some sociological and theological background to work with the Church hierarchy, especially in Asia, writes Dr Paul Hwang.
Its rigid top-down structure and culture make it virtually impossible for lay people to be equal partners with the clergy in most Asian countries, despite the fact that Christianity is a tiny minority here.
But the wind of change is blowing stronger and stronger. It would be illogical if I say it is thanks to Pope Francis, because he himself is one of the clergy. Rather I would say it is because of the Spirit, working both among lay people and clergy. That is what is making the wind blow, albeit at a slow but steady pace.
Let me tell you the story of Maria (not her real name), a lay activist from Sarawak in eastern Malaysia. When I invited her to a theological forum and training workshop for young activists which I have conducted yearly for the past 10 years, she said to the participants at that meeting: "This is a life changing experience." The reason: she received affirmation from the event which enabled her to identify herself as "Christian" with much more confidence.
She was baptized a Christian and still is, so for her to make such a statement in public may not be remarkable. It was special for her, though, because she is the granddaughter of a shaman in her village. No one told her before that Catholicism and theology could embrace her grandparents’ traditional, animist belief system.
Theologians and scholars have dealt and wrestled with this sensitive theological issue. Among them, Thomas Berry is especially distinguished; he has even suggested the concept of "Christian animism" as a creative interpretation of traditional religions like Maria’s grandparents’. But that's in a scholarly world, not in the real life of someone like Maria.
Photo: Animists revere natural phenomena such as trees as they believe that powerful spirits exist in them