03 November 2016

The Good News and identity politics

My favorite pumpkin of the season, on display at Cafe Kapra.
(Carving credit: Group 401,New Humanities Institute, 

I was recently speaking to a Baptist audience here in Russia, and mentioned in passing that both my wife and I were recorded ministers, and that I thought she was a better preacher than I am.

Someone in the audience said to me, "That wouldn't happen with us." I heard later that my little aside didn't go over well with some of those present. I know intellectually that women in Christian leadership is a challenging theme here, but I sometimes forget how challenging.

My thoughts went back to the Friends World Committee for Consultation's Triennial sessions in Oaxtepec, Mexico, in 1985. There was a discussion in a plenary session on men's and women's equality. As I recalled in an earlier post, more than one speaker from the Africa Section explained to us that women had to be patient. The culture was not ready for equality. One Friend said that you have to learn to walk before you could run. Then Gordon Browne put the issue in perspective: the question isn't what the culture is ready for, but what does God expect of us? Quakers in Britain and the colonies held up a vision of equality long before their own culture was "ready" for it. In fact (before we get too self-congratulatory), even some early Friends were not all that ready for it, but the theology of equality was fully-formed in that first generation despite all the opposition of conventional wisdom.

My point now is that the whole-grain Christian Good News probably never fits in comfortably with the established ways of any culture, even when that culture is liberally laced with Christian references. This is particularly important at this time in human history. In a recent regional election campaign in Germany, the radical anti-immigration party attracted followers who felt that immigrants threatened "our Christian culture." In the USA, one presidential candidate says that, when he is president, he'll restore "Merry Christmas" -- no more of that "Happy holidays" nonsense.

Christians face a choice: Either ...

1) preserve (restore) the privileges of Christendom as a domineering tribal identity, with all the concessions to power and prejudice of its local manifestations -- for example, allowing men to decide which spiritual gifts women can and cannot exercise, and building fortresses to keep out the heathen

... or ...

2) take the sublime risk of abandoning all that turf mentality in favor of finding every possible way under the sun to express grace, joy, compassion, the infinite love of God, the reconciling work of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Can we do both? I don't think so. The massive abandonment of Christian community by young people who grew up in Christian families is evidence that the religion industry just can't boss people around anymore and delude itself that it accurately represents the invitation of Jesus to repent and believe the Good News.

However ...

Just when I'm starting to feel good about how much more progressive I am than those who pass on urban myths about the war against Christmas and the threat of Islamic immigration ... just when I'm starting to congratulate myself on bravely rejecting that stifling establishment, I begin to remember all the amazing people I've met in churches and meetings who in some ways still seem trapped in the past. Do I (a convert from an atheist family) have the right to play fast and loose with the elements of their identity that have given them strength to build families and communities for generations?

About a year ago, I wrote a post, Redeeming Germany? I mentioned my own family's master-race heritage and the healing I have found in the spectacle of Germany welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees. I continue to be inspired by Angela Merkel's pointed advice to defensive Christians: "You don't want the Islamization of Europe? Go to church!" In my interpretation: Christianity is not a flag, it's a faith -- so go and learn how to live in faith. Then you will have something real to offer in a dialogue with newcomers whose faith is different. For a believer, simply to avoid the encounter entirely, particularly when that avoidance prolongs the suffering of others, is not an option.

The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, also understands the importance of identity. Born in Uganda, his own encouragement of the "triumphs of Englishness" embodies the idea of a strong identity being an anchor rather than a border:
Let us not forego our appreciation of an English identity for fear of upset or offence to those who claim such an identity has no place a multi-cultural society. Englishness is not diminished by newcomers who each bring with them a new strand to England's fabric, rather Englishness is emboldened to grow anew. The truth is that an all embracing England, confident and hopeful in its own identity, is something to celebrate. Let us acknowledge and enjoy what we are.

... To be patriotic, is to appreciate and be grateful for all that is valuable in the country you live in. It does not require you to be a xenophobe or a blinkered nationalist.
The Canadian Quaker Hugh Campbell-Brown, at a yearly meeting workshop in the mid-1970's, advised us to "plow deep in the furrow you have been given." Identities can operate in the service of alienation and tribalism, or they can simply show the very specific ways we reflect the image and likeness of God, delighting equally in how rich they make our lives and how they prepare us to be radically hospitable to others.

The Good News and identity politics, part two, part three.

"Poverty Is Modern" ... Sources: Amnesty International; eBoy.
Amnesty International's representative staff in Moscow has been locked out of their office. AI statement; Washington Post.

Another fan of Books and Culture considers what we're losing with its closure. (I expressed myself last week.)

Viborg city court set to consider banning Bibles and New Testaments from the Gideons.

CNN's take on Hillary Clinton's public and private faith.

The "Awakening Europe" organization managed to do something Micael Grenholm has never seen before.

Rod Dreher on Russell Moore's eulogy for the Religious Right. Video of Moore's lecture. Important.

We don't suck!!

Does this qualify as a guilty pleasure? Scratch my back...

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