by the Rev Cyrus Kung
As I pushed my way forward into the obnoxiously large pergola that covered one of China’s most treasured historical sites. I found myself captured by the vastness of empire, power and a history that I had only ever loosely connected myself with. Before us, laid the tomb of Qin Shi Huang and his army of 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 520 horses. This terracotta army was silently drawing me in to my own lust for power and ‘the magnificent’, it was drawing me into its 5000 year old story.
Why is it that we are so drawn to the big, the powerful and the jaw dropping things that are beyond ourselves?
There is no doubt that our human civilisations of the past 2000 years have had an infatuation with empires and those organisms that can inspire, move and sometimes control hundreds and thousands of people to move in a singular direction. The late 20th and early 21st century holds no distinction here, however our empires of today are no longer made up of our young men but are more commonly recognised through dollar signs, lit up buildings and brand marketing.
It is in this context of the power of institutional organisms that I see the multicultural documents of the UCA emerge. It is the gentle caress of a well meaning body of Christians hoping to influence and change the hearts of those in our local congregations and institutions. But as relevant as this approach was in the late 20th century western context of law, institution and policy, I am challenged whether this position is effective for the majority of Christians living in the global world of the 21st century. Do aspirational documents coming out of our little corner of the world really spur the Church of the 21st century to live out its multicultural mandate? Is this how the Church will participate in the call to see the kingdom of God here on earth, now as it is in heaven?
35 years on from the original statement released by the UCA stating that we are a multicultural church, we still find ourselves squabbling over how we are to engage with power dynamics and inequalities of Church politics and building occupancies. These documents have set out to address inequality in our local contexts, however anyone that is engaged with any of the “multicultural UCA congregations’ around Australia will see we are still a long way away from living out the cultural mandate of revelation 7 as a local body, let alone a national one.
BUT…God is still faithful and the spirit is continually at work in all of our lives. So before I offer anymore critiques, it is here that I want to acknowledge that in the midst of this overarching struggle of the ‘multicultural church’, we have seen the small wins of local congregations and neighbourly interactions come to fruition. These interactions have formed many strong kingdom orientated relationships within our midst. Friendships, cross cultural learnings and hospitality has been a mark of many local UCA congregations that many would recognise over the turn of the 20th and 21st century.
However… When looking at the wins from these fruitful communities, my questions is… “how much of it can be attributed to nicely formed documents? Or is it that these communities arise out of some other movement, some other means of seeing the multicultural mandate of revelation 7, a movement more grass roots and less, statement and policy driven…..
It is in this conflicting context that I want to ask controversially but also sincerely; “Is placing our resources in crafting well formed statements and well articulated policies adding to the call for diversity in the kingdom? OR is it simply adding to the power of our own western empire building uniformity?” The golden age of the Church institution is long gone and the statements provided are significantly less potent in the political arena now than it was 50 years ago. In addition, in our own local context I doubt many of these well crafted documents are embodied by local congregations and ministers let alone even read by our neighbouring institutions and fellow policy makers in the secular world. These are the harsh realities of a declining Church institution here in the west. These documents rely on the power of our institution in the world and in reality its effectiveness is quickly declining as the institution is growing weaker.
So what does this mean? Should we abandon the institution of the Church and move out into an organic and free spirited inspired movement like the free nature of John the Baptist? Should we be seeking a new world order where christians live in communes?
My reflections here are that as we craft these idealistic and hopeful statements we must not forget the power of christians growing out of grass roots contexts, christians without the anal perfectionism of well crafted statements and policies. I wonder as our policy making institution dwindles, if an effective movement of young leaders and people that are emerging from the grass roots of the majority world are going to be taken seriously and given opportunities to see the 21st century christian Church grow. Who are those that like Christ is holding the polarised corners of the Church together? Policies have traditionally done this in the UCA BUT are there also people who are emerging that can do this with different and creative means? Is this where we might see the Spirit emerge in the 21st century?
People are natural border crossers, we do it all the time, institutions however find border crossing much more difficult, in fact it could be argued that institutions are the ones that create the borders in the first place. In our increasingly divided world, we will need border crosses to show us the unity that can be found in the diversity of the Spirit working in the world. Christ is a person who crosses borders. Christ is relational in nature, It is in His relational border crossing nature that we find unity.
How do we embody this in the 21st century?
How much does the institutional policy making part of the Church add or detract away from this mission?
How do we reimagine the Church of the 21st century in a way that is relational whilst being good stewards of the institution of the UCA we have all inherited?
Maybe the grass roots church of the majority world has something more to teach us…
Maybe this is the kingdom arriving on our doorstep…
Maybe the Kingdom is not the empire of institutional powers we have built…
Maybe the Church of the 21st century needs to shift its focus from policy to people.
By Rev Cyrus Kung
Rev Cyrus Kung, from CityView Uniting Church in the Synod of SA, shares some of his thoughts about the future of our commitment to be a multicultural church. Cyrus was one of the participants in our Act2 Circle consultations. Through the Act2 project, we want to hear from you about how we can nurture and grow vibrant local communities of faith into the future.
Find out more about Act2 here……