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At long last, there is some acknowledgment from our elected leaders that remote aboriginal communities are in urgent need of support and help.
National debate rages over the form this is taking. At its worst it looks like a sledgehammer approach to communities that are already fragile and vulnerable. At its best it enacts a measure that is admittedly interventionist in preparation for longer term measures to assist sustainability, health, safety and security. Subtexts of political opportunism, hypocrisy in the wake of deafness to previous pleas and the shadows of paternalism abound.
So, in the light of my previous post’s reflection on Lee Camp’s offerings om “mere discipleship,” what role does Christ’s church have to play in all this. History gives us a mixed bag of inappropriate interventionism in aboriginal affairs and admirable service in the name of the Suffering Servant.
In summary, Camp lays out in winsome fashion a very clear distinction between what some would call “institutional Christianity” and radical (ie grassroots) Christian faith. Cultural myopia makes it very difficult for many to see that there is a difference between the two. Camp addresses at length the effect in the 4th Century AD of the official legitimisation of Christian faith under Roman Emperor Constantine and poses some challenging issues.
Does the end justify the means? Much of Christian history says yes. Radical discipleship, in contrast, puts as much emphasis on the Way as the End. The Way is modelled by the One who did not coerce, but “emptied himself” in suffering service, calling on his followers to do the same. The End is that God’s love might be revealed and the world transformed. Mostly we at the workshop gave this a tick.
“What can we do about…?” This is probably the most vexatious issue raised by Camp, particularly for a social justice orientated mob like us. Most of us are oriented to fixing things through various institutional means – setting up structured programmes, working in sync with government bodies, lobbying members of parliament. Camp asserts that this approach may compromise our fundamental identity, particularly where it seems that we identify ourselves more with the nation-state than with the call to the reign of God as embodied in Jesus. So do we do nothing about welfare for refugees and the sorry plight of Australia’s aborigines?
Not quite, Camp seems to suggest. Shift your orientation. Let what you do emanate from your being a follower of Jesus, not because, in sync with the state, you can fix something as if you are in charge and in control.
I guess this can be illustrated by this church’s experience in assisting refugee resettlement over many years. Initially it occurred as a cooperative venture with the State. All went sweetly – we were on the same page. Several years ago, government policy changed to the degree that assistance by the churches was no longer required and refugee resettlement became much more institutionalised. We suddenly found ourselves at odds with government policies that reduced recognition of refugees as such and the assistance to which they were entitled. This sorted us out somewhat. Who would we continue to acknowledge in this matter, particularly as our contact with affected refugee families continued unabated? Would we listen to Caesar or the Suffering Servant? Suddenly our much activity called us back to the essence of our being. As we continued our assistance in the name of Christ, some of us found ourselves for the first time venturing into the arena of civil disobedience along with vilification from those who believed Christians should always toe the government line.
As I write, a fierce national debate is in full swing over the Prime Minister’s declared state of emergency in remote aboriginal communities. I’ll put down some thoughts about this in the next entry.
In the meantime, those who were at the workshop (or otherwise) might like to use the comment facility here to extend the discussion. Just press the “comments” link at the end of this post and write in your tuppence worth. Sign off as “Anonymous” if comment in the public arena causes you anxiety. This is a place where the world can hear your voice, so make good use of it!
The current debate on embryonic research has come to the fore this week. In the media, the storm is over whether church hierarchies are exercising undue coercion in influencing politicians of their flock who may be inclined to vote against church teachings.
The effect of this media focus, of course, muddies the waters by introducing the age old controversy of the relationship of church and state.
While I have not followed the particular debate closely, it seems to me that in its purest form, without ascribing dubious motivation to either side, the dilemma is this:
Medical science has identified the possibility of advancing technique and know-how in alleviating some identified forms of human suffering using the results of stem-cell research. The broadest and most effective treatment is possible through embryonic stem-cell applications, as opposed to more limited adult stem-cell results. The most effective application, however, involves the destruction of human embryos.
The values competing for ascendancy all call on large measures of human compassion. It is right that we should use all our available knowledge to alleviate human suffering. It is right that we should preserve dignity and respect for all human life and potential.
Standing by and watching our fellow human beings suffer debilitating wasting diseases when we know a potential cure is possible is unacceptable. Sacrificing another human life, even in embryonic form, to alleviate another’s pain is unacceptable. If the bill succeeds however, the former will have been deemed in legislation to be less unacceptable than the latter, even with corollaries that provide ethical safeguards.
To leave the argument pared down to these opposing propositions, however, does not do justice to the angst of the debate. Behind every proposition is a human story, told with pain, love and tears. We often shield ourselves from the vulnerability of these stories by retreating to a doctrinaire stance, building a wall of defiance from behind which we fire our bullets at the other side.
My appeal is this. For many of us, the lines are already drawn in this debate and we know where we stand even if it’s somewhere in the middle and we are undecided. For some, there is urgency for resolution. For Easter people, however, the way of compassionate listening and engagement is still open. Become informed. Talk to your MP, as many are advising, and listen to the issues that they are weighing. Respectfully offer your perspective. Above all, remain vulnerable, open and alive to the Spirit’s compassion being enabled within you. This is the way of Jesus.