In the public sphere

12 Sep

For too long, the media and public commentators have given the impression that the only Christians with anything to say in the public sphere are conservative fundamentalists, such as the American ‘Moral Majority’.
This last week in the media we saw reports of the back-room plans of right wing religous groups to take over one of the political parties in Australia.
For too long, people of reasonable and moderate Christian convictions have vacated the public sphere, so these right wing groups have moved in to fill the vacuum.
Now at last constructive efforts are being made in many places to engage issues of the day, by theologians and ethicists of a different pursuasion.

More moderate, progressive thinkers, but nonetheless people of faith and hope, are offering alternatives to the secular emptiness of a consumer, materialist society.
Interestingly, in major theological seminaries around the world, new initiatives have been developed to study how we can live the faith, not just think it or believe it.

Another major development is the recognition that it is not only in ‘foreign’ places that faith needs to be related to the local culture. In our own situations, whether in Britain or Botswana, Berlin or Bolivia,  we need to consider the interplay of text and context, faith and culture.
One place I have found that offers incisive and challenging seminars in the engagement of faith and culture is the Yale Centre for Faith and Culture.
I’ve never been able to get across the water to any of their seminars or conferences, but constantly wish I could!
They have one forthcoming on moral leadership, organised in conjunction with the Yale Law School.

The director of this centre, David Miller, has written a superb reflection on the occurrence of hurricane Katrina and many of the issues debated since then.
Here is some of what he wrote:

" …  Some other reporters, trying to capture the depth and breadth of Katrina’s destruction have said the damage is of “biblical proportions.” Well, as a theologian that naturally grabs my attention. But what do they mean by “of biblical proportions”? I suppose the reference is to some of the large scale devastations recorded in the Bible. Images of Noah and the flood immediately come to mind, as well as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the ten plagues that God wrought on Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
Nevertheless, theologically, it seems a stretch to suggest that Katrina’s devastation is somehow intended as divine punishment, as some have suggested. I personally do not support that thesis. But I do know the Bible tells us that God weeps when God’s people suffer. And Jesus reminds us that God has a special concern for the poor when they suffer.

Scripture also teaches us that we, as individuals, should respond when others are in need, each according to his or her own gifts. Some of us can write out generous checks, without batting an eye. Others of us may have to defer the purchase of that new DVD player or iPod to raise the money to express, even if only symbolically, our empathy for those who have lost their homes. Some of us might fast to help focus our prayers and to have solidarity with those who are still thirsty and hungry. Some of us who have an extra coat, pair of shoes, or can of food might heed Jesus’ teaching to give those extra items to a relief distribution center.

We can also act as organizations. Some of us in the corporate world might marshal our creativity and vast operational resources to place them at the disposal of the government and appropriate relief agencies— airline companies offering free planes to transport people and supplies, food companies offering free provisions to feed the hungry, clothing companies offering free wardrobes, construction companies offering free building teams and expertise, pharmaceutical companies offering free medical supplies, and so on and so on. Some universities around the nation can “adopt” displaced students for a period of time. And those of us in the church can “adopt” a congregation: listen to their needs and commit to walk alongside and help them in the days, months, years to come. Thankfully, much of this is now underway, as people are opening their hearts, resources, and doors to help.

Four years ago today, on 9/11, our nation suffered its greatest peacetime attack by terrorists. And now, many are dubbing Hurricane Katrina as the greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States. If so, then let us show the greatest individual and corporate response in the history of the United States. If Katrina is of biblical proportions, let us give a biblically proportionate response."

I’m with this guy: especially if we can realize that there are people who need this kind of support all over the world, and more often that the western media ever report. Faith and culture, yes, and some recognition of our real inter-dependence, all round the world.

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