A new order of righteousness and love
Two books that I have been reading caused me to reflect upon and reinforce my conviction that God has a particular role and calling for the Uniting Church.
The first book is Nomad, with the subtitle “A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations”. It is written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian woman brought up in a tribal Muslim society who, having defied her father’s marriage arrangements for her, fled to Holland, experienced a liberal education in a Dutch university, became a member of the Dutch Parliament and now lives in the United States.
After September 11 she repudiated her Muslim faith and became a champion of western cultural values. She believes that radical Islam has to be challenged and not appeased with some misplaced idea that within a multicultural society it is an acceptable expression of another culture. In her view, there are some cultural values that should be regarded as universally unacceptable.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has little time for interfaith dialogue and, although an atheist, believes that people like herself, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens need to enter a strategic alliance with mainstream Christian denominations to combat radical Islam for the sake of the world.
The second book, The First Paul by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, speaks of Paul’s understanding of “Christ crucified”.
“Christ crucified” is Paul’s shorthand for the divine alternative to accepted wisdom given expression to in “Roman Imperial Theology”, a theology that gave legitimacy to domination through the exercise of violent power and the achievement of peace through victory and conquest.
Paul speaks of a different worldview, which repudiates domination and “peace” sustained or achieved by violence and advocates a peace by non-violent means achieved through justice.
“The cross was the imperial ‘no’ to Jesus. But God had raised him. The resurrection was God’s ‘yes’ to Jesus, God’s vindication of Jesus — and thus also God’s ‘no’ to the powers that had killed him.”
I believe the Uniting Church is well placed to proclaim, with Paul, this alternative understanding of the way of God to counter not only radical Islam but also many fundamentalist expressions of Christianity or any view that sees God’s peace or any peace being achieved now or at the end of time through violent means — the Pax Romana reincarnated.
At the heart of Paul’s theology is the equality of all in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”
Where we do not recognise this equality there will be the domination of one group over another. This theology is not giving expression to a multiculturalism that says all cultural values are equally acceptable. It is about a new order, one in which women do not submit to men, where slavery is not an option, where one race is not superior to another.
This is not simply about tolerance and acceptance; it is about creating a new culture, a new and just way of being based on the template created by Jesus.
While I do not share her total lack of faith in interfaith dialogue or have the same level of faith in Western culture that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has, I believe what she values has its genesis in the gospel, what she refers to as “the concept of God who is a symbol of love, tolerance, rationality and patriotism”.
Although we might quibble with her choice of words, we should hear her encouragement and her criticism of “moderate churches” for providing practical help but failing to provide spiritual guidance. Surely a slap in the face coming from an atheist!
The spiritual guidance she refers to repudiates violent means for the achievement of God’s mission and calls on us in the Uniting Church to unapologetically stand firm in the conviction expressed in the Basis of Union that, in Jesus, God made “a representative beginning of a new order of righteousness and love” with “the reconciliation and renewal of all creation … being … the end in view for the whole creation.”