Messages of Hope

Look for the campfires (of kind and gentle Christian people)

Published / posted by Sandy

Recently, Mike Frost, author and missiologist, wrote this article for Common Grace. It resonated deeply with me, especially as a different lens for thinking about what’s happening in the world. Yes, troubles and strife have always been part of human history. I can understand why people don’t want to dwell on the difficult issues and to focus instead on the positives, to find what is life affirming and not what is life denying.

And yet, Christian faith takes seriously ‘Love God, love your neighbour as yourself’, for those in the midst of the troubles and the strife, and whose situation calls for compassionate care. Christian faith also calls us to advocate for the poor and marginalised, and to address systemic issues that oppress and dispossess people.

Mike writes:
I had just watched the documentary film, The Final Quarter, about the shocking and sustained racist attacks endured by Indigenous football player, Adam Goodes during the last three years of his career, and I was distressed. Initially I wasn’t sure why, but the outspoken displays of ignorance by columnists and broadcasters like Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones, as they attacked Goodes and defended the booing mob, really got to me.

Then it occurred to me: I’ve often seen these right-wing commentators being quoted by church people to ‘disprove’ things like gender dysphoria or toxic masculinity. Like their favourite Greek chorus, they’ll retweet Bolt, Devine, Jones and Latham whenever they want to defend religious freedom or slam ‘leftists’ for trying to impose cultural Marxism on society. In fact, in their fight to protect our perceived Christian heritage, some church people take great comfort in the broadcasts and columns of Andrew Bolt and the others.
And here they were, that same Greek chorus, baying for the blood of Adam Goodes.  

Moral outrage, when it has power, is deaf. And it’s easy to feel like neither satire nor the Gospel will stay its brutal hand. When right-wing columnists and shock-jocks speak with the same voice as some Christian voices and church leaders, you can be sure we live in a distressing time for those of us committed to the values of the Kingdom of God like justice, reconciliation, beauty and wholeness.

In these dark days, important moral issues are reduced to smart-mouthed hot takes, which sound for all intents and purposes like homophobia, and racism, and fossil fuel yahooism (while always being denied as such, of course). 

In times like these, it’s tempting to go to ground, to be circumspect, to wait for another day. But if we remain silent now we tacitly play into the general assumption that Christianity is only concerned with ending same-sex marriage, supporting indefinite offshore detention, backing the coal industry, and fighting tooth and nail for its own freedom of speech. And this at a time when Australia is obviously being wracked by the evils of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, islamophobia, systemic poverty and ecological devastation.

In a time as cynical and corrupt as this, you need to look for the campfires of kind and gentle Christian people.

These are those good-souled followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for men, women and children seeking asylum on our shores. Not just yearn, but march and tweet and sign petitions and visit their local politicians and take refugees into their homes.     

Look for the campfires of those followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for and reconciliation with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, who yearn for an end to family and domestic violence, and who seek protection for our environment, and peace on earth.  

They want what Dr William Barber calls a true moral revival. Speaking about his own country, the USA, he says, “Some issues are not about left and right, Republican and Democrat – they’re about our deepest moral values. And we believe that you have to have a campaign, a movement, that seeks to reshape the moral narrative.” Martin Luther King referred to these people as the moral defibrillators of our time, to shock this nation with the power of love.

We need to show the love of God’s people who remain committed to ending poverty, and violence against women, and offshore detention; to fuel a renewed commitment to creation care and peacemaking, and racial reconciliation.  

I see their campfires in the direct actions of a group like Love Makes a Way, and in the advocacy of people like the Common Grace team, and in communities like Fixing Her Eyes and Parish Collective, and events like the Justice Conference and Surrender. And now is the time for more such campfires to be lit.

As Rabbi Tarfon, a 2nd century Mishnah sage, once wrote, reflecting on Micah 6:8, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” 

(Michael Frost is a Common Grace supporter and the founder of the Tinsley Institute at Morling College. He has written extensively on a missional paradigm for the church in a post-Christian era and has pastoral experience in several Baptist churches across Sydney)