We Christians have expected post-Christendom Australia to be pretty easy-going, wrote Stephen McAlpine a couple of weeks ago — but the harsh reality is Babylon, which he calls Exile Stage Two. In a follow-up post, he characterises this experience as a cage fight. Here’s my response.
Exile is a given — and just saying so may be confronting enough for some of us. What we really have to dig into and deal with, though, is the nature of our particular Aussie Babylon, and the ways in which the world system lays claim to our lives today.
If we are to abandon Christendom and grapple with a new reality, are we left facing a cage-fight situation? That’s not at all obvious to me because our society is in flux. Aussie Christians are clearly experiencing some indifference as well as some hostility, and the polarisation Stephen mentions is ever-present these days. The thing is, Christians are not the only ones caught up in the polarisation and the biffo. Australian society is moving from a majority-Christian context to something more mixed, and this emerging context is something new for all Aussies, not just Christians. Neither white Christian Aussies nor white secular Aussies have any real experience of living in a pluralistic society, so we’re probably all a little bit confused and at odds, at different points in coming to terms with things in different ways. If we cop some, we needn’t take it personally.
My point is that in the midst of all the dichotomies being flung to and fro, Australian society may be becoming a more diverse and differentiated place. Let’s learn about this and own it.
Let’s also dig down into the mechanisms of idolatry grasping for our allegiance today. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of darkness. What are they up to today? We see them especially at work in consumerism, individualism and materialism, the governing stories that vie for domination of our existence, which get their claws into our everyday lives and suck the life out of our communities. This is the subtle arena in which the Evil One accuses and destroys, aided and abetted by Babylonian society.
Whether it’s wrestling with societal transition or more malign forces, Babylon is always angst-ridden. Yet we have been called out of her and called to bring hope and healing. We are not guardians of culture but witnesses within culture.
In the landscape I’ve described above, I can think of two deeply tangible ways in which Aussie Christians are poised to make a counter-cultural witness: welcoming the stranger and living the simple life.
Today, we of all people should be able not only to recognise the fragmentation of society but also to mend it, profoundly, through the creation of life-giving, reconciling communities in which a new creation is made manifest. Our world can’t live with deep differences, as Stephen says, but the people of Christ can. We are a beacon of what’s to come, all things made whole in Christ, knit together by the power of the Spirit in the love of the Father. We are the people of hospitality with whom refugees and new arrivals will find themselves at home — as will many other and othered Australians. Aussies may be building barriers, but we will see them overcome by the One who is our peace. A signpost for this is Welcome to Australia, begun by an Adelaide pastor.
It’s not surprising that Australia has so little room for other people when you consider that we’re one of the richest nations on Earth. Consumers are always accumulating stuff — material, digital, experiential — and why would you want to draw near to someone who doesn’t fit in with your carefully aligned lifestyle choices, the well-maintained whole of your self? And that is what some of you were — but the Spirit has cleaned us out and given us a new name. Greed is idolatry and we will put it to death; we will not cling tightly to our stuff any longer. One signpost is Behind the Barcode, in which the Aussie Baptists are challenging us to think, perhaps for the first time, about what we buy in terms other than affordability, quality, and looks. This is the path towards buying out of the world order that would keep us in the dark.
Let’s have courage, and let’s have joy, but above all let’s have love, the outward gaze of a neighbour — because we cannot simply hold the line or learn to lose. The apostle Peter calls us not to batten down the hatches and preserve ourselves, but to renew our identity and purpose. Grace and peace be yours in abundance! You priesthood for the nations, you will never be put to shame! You daughters of Sarah, have no fear! You righteous, seek peace and pursue it!
In Babylon, after all, we are called to seek the flourishing of the city.
Image credit: Now You Are The Light Of The World And Salt Of The Earth by Lalo Gutierrez.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.