Call to Action and the Grammar of Partnership

From Deb W and Don P. at – Thank you!  

Thoughts on Church Worker Justice by Don Pribor, CTA’s new Church Worker Justice
Organizer, February and March 2017 at

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.

Further thoughts on Church Worker Justice byDon Pribor, Just Church Worker Organizer

In my previous posting, I shared the wisdom of the Indian feminist theologian, Kochurani Abraham, about the need for our church to learn the grammar of partnership.

Kochurani cited an Indian proverb that says that in order to pick a mango from the tree above the roof, we have to let go of what we are holding in our armpit. And our church can’t promote a relationship of mutuality between humans and the earth if we don’t practice mutual relationships within the church.

During the CTA national conference in Albuquerque last November, there was a meeting for people concerned about Church Worker Justice. An observation was made that the root issue is that many Bishops treat the laity like chattel – and that the problem of unjust treatment of lay people by Bishops must be dealt with theologically.

Leonardo Boff (1938-present) is a Brazilian Catholic theologian who is one of the founders of Latin American liberation theology. Liberation theology expresses the insight that liberation from social, political, and economic oppression is the will of God as expressed in both Jewish and Christian scriptures and that Jesus sought to bring this liberation to the people of his time and place. Liberation from oppression here on earth is an anticipation of our ultimate salvation at the end of time.

In 1981, Boff published a book called Church: Charism and Power. In it, Boff sought to apply the insights of liberation theology to the internal relationships of the church. He argued that the church must work for liberation in society and that church structures must embody just relationships. The present church structures are not just, therefore, not faithful to the fundamental insights of the Gospel. These structures must be, and can be changed.

In 2011, Boff published a book called Christianity in a Nutshell. Boff shares his understanding of the core meaning of Christianity. He states that in Jesus’ utopian vision, power is seen as service (hierodulia) and never as hierarchy (sacred power).

Boff says that the development of a clerical caste within the church separate from and superior to lay people, a caste which imposes its authority upon lay people, is not in accord with the practice of Jesus and the ways in which he related to people. The stories of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, related at the beginning of the Gospels, before Jesus began his public ministry, are given to us as a warning of the false exercise of power and of Jesus’ rejection of this way of using power.

Moving from exercise of power as coercion and domination to conversion, using leadership to serve all people, staring with those who are most marginalized

The issue before us then, is not getting rid of the ministries of priest and bishop, but rather calling priests and bishops who exercise power as coercion and domination to conversion, to use their power of leadership within our community in humble service to all people, staring with those who are most marginalized.

But not only must we call individual priests and bishops to conversion, we must promote a conversion of church structures at all levels so that leadership is always exercised in structures that are based in the equality of all church members. And for us at Call To Action, as the saying goes, the rubber hits the road when we struggle to implement leadership in our community that models what we wish to see in the entire Church.

There are many ways that Call To Action is called to reflect on how leadership is structured in our community. One issue that I want to hold up is the relationship between white Anglo members and members who are people of color . Our community is committed to a lens of anti-racism and anti-oppression principles. How do we implement structures where the insights, ways of organizing activities, and ways of celebrating our common faith that are authentic to people of color have equal weight with the customs and practices of white Anglos ?

What does power as service (hierodulia) look like in this context? Or do we maintain hierarchy (sacred power) where white Anglo ways of thinking and doing are superior to the reflections and practices of people of color ?

Don Pribor is Call To Action Just Church Worker Organizer. We are happy to share this blog post by him, the second in a series which can be viewed at CTA’s web site.  Don can be reached at 773.404.0004 x261 or See other posts in this series here.

Call To Action and the Grammar of Partnership



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