Jesus’ message is spreading and growing, but not in the seat of privilege and power.
Have we got it all wrong? During holiday seasons, the grief of losing a loved one, or dark nights of the soul I often give pause to this question. When life quietens for a moment, I can’t shake the sense that our priorities are topsy-turvy.
It seems to me that all too often we choose expedience over engagement. We choose consumption over communion. We choose profit over people; and, rules over relationships. We choose apathy and privilege over advocacy.
This Easter has given rise to the same thoughts. Easter is the centrepiece and triumph of the Christian tradition. But I wonder if we’ve lost sight of its purpose and meaning. My understanding of Jesus is that he challenged the institutions, priorities and ideologies of the time. He was most critical of the religious elite and people in positions of authority. In turn, these people sought to undermine him and later persecuted his followers. For me, Easter is about all the things we refuse – communion, people, engagement, relationship and advocacy.
There is a growing sentiment, in so-called Western civilisation, that Christian values are under attack. There is increasing discourse that populism and political correctness are eroding Christianity. The proposed response is fight or surrender. Rail against pluralism and popular culture or give up and watch the decline. Hence, the advent of President Trump, Pauline Hanson, Reclaim Australia and various other outspoken and divisive leaders and movements.
We rail against halal food, marriage equality, and removing the word ‘Easter’ from chocolate eggs and hat parades. We rail against other people’s rights to practice their religion. But we defer to authority and abdicate responsibility when it comes to the rights of people fleeing torture and trauma.
When people who hold power are feeling persecuted and oppressed it’s simply because their position of privilege is being challenged. It’s not genuine persecution. Genuine persecution looks like the horrific bombing of a Coptic Church in Egypt. Genuine persecution looks like imprisonment and torture. Genuine persecution is being banned from practising your religion. The populist response to this reality is, “That’s why we speak out. We don’t want that here. The dilution of our values is a slippery slope.” In that way of thinking, cultural diversity is the enemy; inclusion means giving up what is considered sacred; and, multiculturalism can only be a failed experiment. Otherwise, we would have to welcome people and cultures that confront our sensibilities.
Pluralism is not persecution, it just feels like it to those who are part of the dominant culture. The decline of Christianity is not some grand conspiracy. It is of our making. We have returned to consumption, profit, rules, apathy and privilege and forsaken the central message of Christ. We have equated Christianity with having a comfortable life. A life of prosperity, unthreatened by ‘them’. But that’s not the message of Jesus, and that’s not the message of Easter.
The message we seem to have lost is that love wins.
Jesus’ message is spreading and growing, not dying. It’s spreading across South America, Africa and Asia; just not in the seat of privilege and power. Love challenges privilege and calls into question what we deem to be powerful. Love, like Jesus, is a threat to privilege and power.
When we care about ‘them’ as much as ‘us’, love wins. When we give voice and power to the voiceless and powerless, love wins. When we choose engagement over experience. When we choose communion over consumption. When we choose people over profit; relationship over rules; and, advocacy over apathy and privilege. Love wins.
We don’t need to answer the question, “how do we halt the decline of Christianity in the West?” Rather, we need to ask, “how do we return to the central message of Christ?” Are we willing to surrender to love for the sake of the least, our neighbour, our enemy and maybe even our very souls?
What’s my hope and prayer this Easter? May love win.