Thinking theologically on community matters

On my to do list has been to read and respond to a paper titled: “The Revenge of the Racists and the Silence of those who Worship the Lamb”, written by one of my Facebook friends, Greg Smith. Greg is a member of a growing group of community activists that work at the coal face, who think theologically, and whose theological understanding is basically sound. While we have a lot in common, e.g. we work in the area of homelessness and seek to befriend Muslims, our views differ on some important issues. While it is rather simplistic to say so, Greg is as much left leaning as I am right. Yet the nice thing is we haven’t fallen out and just maybe are examples of Christians trying to unite tackling the huge issues of the day. I like it when at the end of the paper he raises important points for further discussion. Instead of polarizing around our different outlooks on matter, it represents a way forward on what should be.

The paper was produced under the auspices of the William Temple Foundation. Its website tells us helpful things like:we generate ideas about the impact of religion on civil society, wellbeing, politics and economics, and urban change”, “the William Temple Foundation is a research and ideas hub, shaping debate on religion in public life” and “since 1947, the William Temple Foundation has sought to connect Christian social concerns to the realities of the secular world”. I do not know enough to say one way or another but I hope it is not a liberal, left, progressive echo chamber that excludes those of us from the right, who like Greg hammer away at the coal face, but view world events a lot differently. One example of our differences is regarding the proposed visit of Franklin Graham which he is opposed to. While I do not wish to add to disunity, I support the visit, believing Graham to be a prophetic voice.

Greg’s paper is a well thought out and academically leaning treatise addressing some of his concerns. I don’t propose to respond with something of the same ilk but rather to pick up on a number of points, especially when these lead me to draw different conclusions. Some of what the paper provides is simply factual and draws upon statistical evidence. This is not disputed and indeed some of it is helpful in trying to understand the times we live in and how people, especially Christians, may be thinking. Some of the terms used: like racism, white privilege and supremacy, popularism and nationalism elicit an emotional response, not because usage of such terms is invalid but my own understanding is likely different to his (and given the pejorative way those who hold such views seem to be portrayed, I don’t believe I am mistaken).  I confess that a point by point examination of Greg’s arguments would require a lot more effort than I am prepared to give. While I am ready to concede some points, admit to being agnostic or ignorant on others, and refute yet others, it is not my intention to cover many of these here. Rather, he has raised matters of importance and it has got me thinking of and then articulating what I believe and why I believe it is important.

Two significant events in recent years, discussed in the paper, are the UK decision to leave the EU and the US decision to make Donald J Trump as their president, and this against most peoples’ expectation. I supported both decisions at the time they were made and am even more supportive now, for reasons laid out on my website. I also recognize many of those in the activist group I identified above think differently. Also referred to is the trend toward right leaning popularism (and here definition of terms matters given it conjures up pictures of prejudiced, simple minded bigots), which I see as a mixed blessing. On the one hand it attracts sentiments like hostility to “the other”, especially if they are black, foreign and Muslim. On the other hand it is a response to the wrong direction supporters feel the countries where they live are going.

While nationalism is used in a derogatory way, its opposite, globalism, is worse. My own reading of the Tower of Babel account in Genesis and the rise of the world government presided over by the Antichrist in Revelation is the first ended in tears and the last will, along with my belief God raises up nation states by way of checks and balances even though many of the rulers when seen historically and statistically have been as a whole pretty poor, yet God is nevertheless sovereign over all. Brexit, Trump and Europe’s leaning to the right supports the nation state ideal and that is in the main a good thing, even though the ignorance, prejudice and bigotry that sometimes goes with it isn’t. My fear is many of the world’s leaders and hidden hand behind them pushing for globalism (e.g. using terms like a new world order) are not good people and, if I read things correctly, their purpose is to tyrannize and subjugate.

Immigration is an emotive issue and it is somewhat ironic that, in the earlier part of my community activist career, I found myself supporting asylum seekers, when successive governments didn’t and the issue didn’t bother the public at large. What did bother a number though is we let in too many foreigners and this often had a detrimental effect, something the ruling elite went to pains to convince us was not the case, which is something the often derided working man (cited as ignorant and prejudiced) saw through, and also it seems many Christians who take serious the two great commands. Many examples can be cited and argued over, and no doubt some of the arguments raised by either side are spurious. One scenario indelibly laid on my mind is that of the child sex grooming gangs in several English cities that have involved Pakistani Muslim men who were not only unprepared to adopt British values (a moot point defining what these are admittedly) but performed their dastardly act with impunity, partly because the establishment were unprepared to admit there was a problem and feared of upsetting Muslims. While I am no fan of groups like the EDL and have reservations regarding UKIP, at least these recognize there is an issue which if not dealt with will wreak havoc for the country.

Until recently, I had hardly heard the terms “white privilege” and “white supremacy” but having heard it and weighed the context the terms were used I can only conclude it is usually a load of BS made to make white people who are doing ok feel bad and distract from the real issues. As one that could be put in that category, for the record, I can say: I am married to a black wife, most of my family are black, many of my friends over the years have been black, a lot of my early community activism has been working alongside black people and I go to a church where a significant minority of its conservative leaning congregation are black. Which brings me to the term “racism”. I could be convinced otherwise but it is often used by liberal, leftie types of the more radical ilk to shut down debate and have a pop at those expressing conservative leaning views, rather than refer to a real problem that needs to be dealt with. For me race is irrelevant and like Martin Luther King I try to judge people by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin. What caps it all and is central to my theological understanding is the teachings of scripture to do with being all one in Christ irrespective of colour etc. and the need to love one’s neighbor whoever he/she is.

There is no doubt wherever we look we are living in momentous times and while things we have little control over can drive us to despair, we need to put our trust in God, who does all things well. I would like to think concerning the issues I raised in my last blog post “Town centre homeless challenges”, Greg and I would substantially agree and if not geographically distant would be supportive of. As a gospel preaching, community activist, on my way out, I can only say it as I see it. There is a place to disagree on matters that are not essential (although I believe points raised above are important) as what truly matters is the gospel is preached, our neighbor is loved and the God we serve is honoured and glorified.

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