A Scandalous Community (Or: ‘The Church’)

A community of people who have no right to be in relationship with one another

This is fast becoming my definition of the Church, or at least one of its core elements.

I’ve come to this conclusion due to my reading of the letter to the Ephesians, wherein the author (I’m happy to call him ‘Paul’) describes how Jesus of Nazareth—in his life, ministry, death and resurrection—has “…destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”, bringing Jew and Gentile together into one family of faith.

Using Paul’s words,

[Jesus’] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:15b-18

The concept is profound.

Through God’s work in Jesus, formerly warring parties have been united. Once they were enemies, now they are family. But, even more than this, the kind of reconciliation described here forms, for Paul, the basis of the hope towards which God is working: the reconciliation of all things. The Church is God’s ‘Exhibit A’, the example God is showcasing now as the foretaste of what is to come (Ephesians 3: 10).

What this means, I think (if I am making any sense of Paul’s words), is that the Church is the place where people who do not belong together—who should not even be in the same room as one another—are brought together in deep unity through the reconciling work of God in Jesus. The Church is, or at least should be, the one place on earth where all of the symbols of exclusion that keep us divided us as humans are overcome. It should be the place where wealth and status and race and gender and all of the other tribal markers that we use to divide are brought to nil through common faith, and where humans relate to each other simply as humans (created in the image of God). It is the place where such markers of exclusion are to be rebuked and scorned, rather than celebrated.*

This, it seems to me, is the essential core of what it actually means to be Christian: humans who, in reconciling with the Creator, are reconciled with one another and with the rest of Creation (and this last bit obviously has some other profound implications which I won’t go into here).

The Church should—nay, must!—be a symbol of the potential of true human community.

The challenge is rather simple, then, it would seem: do our churches reflect this?

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* I feel the need to point out that I’m not arguing here for the loss of all that constitutes ‘difference’. Difference can be a wonderful thing to celebrate, and I firmly believe that the church should be a symbol of ‘diversity in unity’ rather than uniformity. What I’m talking about here is the sort of tribalism which uses difference as a means of exclusion.

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The Nonviolence of the Strong: Responding to Scott Morrison

I have been genuinely struggling of late in regards to how to engage with (or respond to) Scott Morrison MP. For those who don’t know, Mr Morrison is the Liberal Party’s Federal Member for Cook, in Sydney’s South, and, with his party being elected to Government in September, is now Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

Mr Morrison also claims a strong Christian faith, which he has suggested plays an important role in every aspect of his life (including, obviously, his politics).

The basis of my struggle with Mr Morrison, in a nut shell, is because I think what he has done and continues to do in regards to asylum seeker policy (and public discourse on the matter) is evil (and, yes; I chose those words very carefully, in case you were wondering). It seems to me that he has deliberately been fostering an attitude that seeks to dehumanise those people who come to Australia by boat, and that this has been something of a central focus of his for some time now. I find his politics disgusting and, to be perfectly honest, it sickens me when he then claims a Christian faith.

I feel quite a bit of anger towards Mr Morrison. At some level, I want to make him feel what he makes other people feel (I recognise that I am not a recipient of Mr Morrison’s inhumane policy and rhetoric, though I feel that the humanity of us all is tarnished in the process of dehumanising asylum seekers). I want him to feel just some of the fear and trauma that his rhetoric and his harsh policies inflict on vulnerable people. But most of all, I feel quite a bit of resentment towards his church for staying silent on this issue and, therefore (as far as I am concerned), sharing in his evil works.

It’s at this point in my thinking that I am then gripped by the unmistakable rebuke of the Spirit.

I am still convinced that Mr Morrison’s actions are, in fact, evil. I am still convinced that we—that I—must respond (and this certainly includes his church!). But I am also convinced that the means by which we respond to Mr Morrison must be consistent with the message, for to buy in to the cycle of retribution and ungrace achieves nothing but the perpetuation of hate. As Gandhi noted, this sort of ‘eye for an eye’ mentality leaves the whole world blind.

I have been reading Walter Wink’s excellent short book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, and I’d like to reproduce here a rather lengthy quote which, I think, sums it all up perfectly (and which issues a hell of a challenge!):

Gandhi distinguished between the ‘nonviolence of the weak’, which uses harassment to break the opponent, and the ‘nonviolence of the strong’ (what he called ‘satyagraha’ or ‘truth force’), which seeks the opponent’s good by freeing him or her from oppressive actions.

[Martin Luther] King [Jr] so imbued this understanding of nonviolence into his followers that it became the ethos of the entire civil rights movement. One evening, during the turbulent weeks when Selma, Alabama, was the focal point of civil right struggle, the large crowd of black and white activists standing outside the Ebenezer Baptist Church was electrified by the sudden arrival of a black funeral home operator from Montgomery. He reported that a group of black students demonstrating near the capitol just that afternoon had been surrounded by police on horseback, all escape barred, and cynically commanded to disperse or take the consequences. Then the mounted police waded into the students and beat them at will. Police prevented ambulances from reaching the injured for two hours. Our informant was the driver of one of those ambulances, and he had driven straight to Selma to tell us about it.

The crowd outside the church seethed with rage. Cries went up, “Let’s march!” Behind us, across the street, stood, rank on rank, the Alabama State Troopers and the local police forces of Sheriff Jim Clark. The situation was explosive. A young black minister stepped to the microphone and said, “It’s time we sang a song.” He opened with the line, “Do you love Martin King?” to which those who knew the song responded, “Certainly, Lord!” “Do you love Martin King?” “Certainly, Lord!” “Do you love Martin King?” “Certainly, certainly, certainly Lord!” Right through the chain of command of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference he went, the crowd each time echoing, warming to the song, “Certainly, certainly, certainly Lord!” Without warning he sang out, “Do you love Jim Clark?”—the sheriff?! “Cer … certainly, Lord” came the stunned, halting reply. “Do you love Jim Clark?” “Certainly, Lord”—it was stronger this time. “Do you love Jim Clark?” Now the point had sunk in, as surely as Amos’ in chapters 1 and 2: “Certainly, certainly, certainly Lord!”

Rev. James Bevel then took the mic. We are not just fighting for our rights, he said, but for the good of the whole society. “It’s not enough to defeat Jim Clark—do you hear me Jim?—we want you converted. We cannot win by hating our oppressors. We have to love them into changing.”

Wink continues, a little further on:

King enabled his followers to see the white racist also as a victim of the Principalities and Powers, in this case the whole ethos of the Southern Way of Life. Southern racists also needed to be changed. This provided a space and grace for transformation. While much more remains to be done in [the United States of] America than any of us like to think, change has occurred, datable to events like these, when the tide of racial fury was channeled by the willingness of a few people to absorb its impact in their own bodies and to allow it to spread no farther.

I find these words incredibly challenging, but it doesn’t stop there. Quoting Narayan Desai, Wink affirms that

Nonviolence presupposes a level of humanness—however low it may be, in every human being.

I cannot fight against Scott Morrison’s dehumanisation of asylum seekers by dehumanising Scott Morrison. To do so is to fail from the outset. Instead, my concern for those who Mr Morrison is dehumanising needs to be coupled with a genuine desire to see Mr Morrison transformed by grace in the process.

It might help to conclude with one last quote from Walter Wink:

In the final analysis, then, love of enemies is trusting God for the miracle of divine forgiveness. If God can forgive, redeem, and transform me, I must also believe that God can work such wonders with anyone. Love of enemies is seeing…oppressors through the prism of the reign of God—not only as they now are but also as they can become: transformed by the power of God.

May it be so.

Hospitality. Welcome. Community.

As I was reading this evening, I was struck by the following quote:

We are more concerned with improving our homes than sharing them.

I took to Twitter to share the quote (noting my own sense both of conviction and inspiration at the idea expressed), and a friend suggested I read the short poem ‘The God Letters’ by Steve Turner.

It’s amazing(!):

The Lord God says:
‘Share your bread
with the hungry,
bring the homeless poor
into your house,
cover the naked.’

Dear Lord God,
We have got
new carpets,
so this will
not be possible.

Selah.