“Rebekah, stop writing about super-cessationism already. Why can’t you write about something interesting, like race?” – Anonymous Friend
Okay, I’ll try.
Lining my shelves are books about the Holocaust, as many as I could find and as many as I could read an impressionable, studious teen. The Holocaust took me a long time to understand and to reckon with as a Christian.
Our Hands Are Stained With Blood is a short but powerful and well-researched book. It points to the culpability of Christianity and the self-deceit and wickedness of Christendom – the pure evil of a religion that for centuries enacted untold violence upon Jewish people. I concluded, then, that the only real gospel that we could preach was a gospel of us on our knees, a gospel preached not from soapboxes and through loudspeakers but one that requires absolute humility and nothing short of the reality of the broken and cross-carrying love of Jesus. The only way to even have any gospel to begin to broach with people who bear the collective scars of centuries of violence committed in the name of Jesus is one where we are willing to love at the cost of our lives.
The Holocaust was what made me first confront the reality of Christian history apart from the heroic narrative we are often fed, if we are fed any church history at all. But there was more. There was Foxe’s book of martyrs, detailing Christian deaths at Christian hands. The Puritans, for example, fled suppression and persecution and yet banished and hung their own brethren in Christ, the Quakers. And, at this point, all my Anabaptist friends are coughing loudly and giving me pointed looks as well. *cough*
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23 NIV)
The Christianity we live and preach must be a Christianity that is authentically Jesus’s. The gospel that we preach and the faith that we practice has to be this, and nothing else.
Whatever gospel was preached before in Christendom was one that actually did have the ideal of “peace on earth and goodwill to all men”. However, you had men merrily singing all the Christmas carols they wanted and then returning to the Nazi death camps the very next day to supervise mass killings. There’s this huge dichotomy within Christianity that gives lipservice to teachings like “blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted” and yet has a tragic record of practicing something quite different.
But all this is very distant, geographically, from me and where I come from. Why is the authentic Kingdom gospel, a gospel that teaches us to love our enemies and to love our brethren and to live and walk in the footsteps of our suffering Savior so imperative?
My brother was a writing major in university and he took several literature courses, including one about post-colonialism. Post-colonialist literature is about people like us, people whose nations and peoples were colonised by imperial, Western, Christian Europe in some way, people who make up the majority of the world. It’s about reclaiming our space and voice in a place where we’re looked down upon, drowned out and simply not really considered or heard on an equal level. It’s a very common topic of conversation among people that I know, especially non-Christians.
You see, a lot of the developing world consists of people like us, people with voices who can articulate ourselves and our thoughts just as well as people from the West. Many of my Asian peers are highly educated and able to have very elaborate discourses about the world at large, the world beyond our doorsteps. We live outside of the Western bubble or the American bubble, and yet we look at that bubble and everything happening “over there” and have a great deal of things to say. On any given day, I get to talk about exploitation, capitalism, colonialism, religion with people and yet saddens me greatly is that because of all these things – because of what happened and what continues to affect us today – the doors of many of hearts are closed to Jesus.
How do you live and the share the gospel with people who know lots about Christianity and about the Christian message, enough to justify indifference or opposition to “systems” they see as having nothing to offer? We’re not isolated villagers gasping at lightbulbs and intrigued by simple stories any more. The old trinkets and baubles, catchphrases and diagrams, do not impress us.
In a post-colonial, post-Christian world, when it seems like everything is “drifting away” from traditional Christian culture into secularism, fundamentalist Christianity seemed to some like a good idea – Double down, stick blindly to traditional Christianity and impose a “radical” way of life in opposition to the way in the which the world is moving. However, it really is a reenactment of outmoded values and attitudes. Fundamentalism is actually becoming less and less relevant and more and more like a farcical parade. It no more reflects Jesus than the Christendoms of yesteryear. It is clinging to imperfect systems as if they are perfect, and entertaining no critique or sane thought. Fundamentalism may have some things technically right, but the things that it focuses on and how it zooms in on very specific issues is very telling and symptomatic of the rot within its roots and the very shaky foundations upon which it rests. “Purified” culture and “Biblical” ways of life sound good on paper, but the pursuit of these ideals actually has very little to do with Jesus himself or with actual spirituality.
It is not the time for traditionalism and for the idealisation of Christianity’s past when most of the world has already moved on and in fact is dealing with the aftermath of European imperialism and a violent, exploitative Christianity.
Instead of blindly and ignorantly sticking to their guns, Christians, whether Western or Western-influenced, should come out of the backwater and actually engage with what the world is facing today. Acknowledge the racism, exploitation and violence in Christianity’s past, for example. Cling to Jesus, not to old Euro-American ideals like “all stores closing on Sundays” or “all women staying home and not working”. Secular society is sometimes pretty incredulous at how blind, tone-deaf and ridiculous Christian culture is when it tries to defend the indefensible.
Nationalistic or cultural Christianity stands in opposition to Jesus and the transnational Kingdom He established. “Go into all the world,” He said, and with much prodding the apostles began to establish a called-out community in which wealth, poverty, ethnicity, race, gender, social status and legal status meant nothing at all. They garnered a reputation for turning the world upside down (Acts 17:7), and no wonder.
Imagine if we Christians stopped pursuing power and started pursuing humility and meekness, and instead of trumpeting our own greatness and importance we started washing feet and serving people while expecting nothing in return. Instead of thinking ourselves and our Christian culture very superior, what if we started considering others as better than ourselves? Instead of vindictive retribution and the virulent defense of “our rights and liberties”, what if we started caring for the actual oppressed downtrodden, forgotten and unheard in this world?
Christianity is more than a matter of a new understanding. Christianity is an invitation to be part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ. Right living is more the challenge than right thinking. The challenge is not the intellectual one but the political one—the creation of a new people who have aligned themselves with the seismic shift that has occurred in the world since Christ. (Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens)
The story of my family is a story of survival. I don’t think my ancestors did very much more than survive, breaking their backs growing rice, fishing, trading and scraping together a living. They left China because of the widespread poverty and the devastation that, among other things, the opium trade caused. The same boats that brought the missionaries brought the opium used to enslaved the Chinese people en masse.
My ancestors landed in a world in which they were right at the bottom and the white imperialists, right at the top. The colonizers filled their pockets and coffers, taking whatever they wanted. Perhaps they soothed their consciences by supporting charitable works, but from histories that I have read and firsthand accounts, very few came off their pedestals and saw us as their equals. To survive in such a world, you learned English, you adapted, you Westernised, you Christianized. And that is not to say the efforts of the Christians who gave their lives in service of the poor and the needy here are unappreciated. In fact, they are very much respected.
My great-grandparents contended with a system in which the colour of their skin, the language their spoke and their ethnicity determined their place in society. They were impoverished immigrants, and in the fight to survive under colonial rule, they did all they could to integrate into a world that was ruled by the European (Christian) powers. I wonder, in part, if our easy assimilation into the European Christianity brought to our shores was in part aided by the cultural assimilation that preceded it.
Interestingly, no matter how this world progresses, you still need to be as Westernized as possible to do well. Colonial structures continue to permeate here in Asia that people of a certain skin colour or background get paid more, respected more, and just treated better overall.
I’ll be very honest – traditional, militant Christianity with its anglocentric and ethnonationalist baggage will have a very negligent effect on the world at large and the rising East if it doesn’t rethink its theology.
If you want to missionize people in my city, fundamentalist preaching, track-dispensing and all the usual gimmicks don’t get very far at all. I don’t see it going very far in Beijing, Tokyo or Seoul either. People may smile and tolerate missionizing, but reaching their hearts will take so much more. You’ll have to work very hard to prove that you don’t belong to that “Christianity” the one that perpetuates the colonial systems in which people were dehumanised and considered as less-than-equal.
More than anything, we Christians have to work very hard to show that we have something to offer the modern world at all.
I would argue that, today, a not just de-violenced but a non-violent Christianity is more palatable, universal (de-nationalised, less Eurocentric), and to be honest, “Biblical” approach. A Christianity that promotes transnational and transpolitical brotherhood at least has a fighting chance.
These theologies, whether of the “Two Kingdoms” or “nonresistance” are not just good ideas, I really believe they are absolute imperatives.