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!