Saturday, June 11, 2016

Christianity Without Christ

If you missed the goings-on in the streets of San Jose last week outside a rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump, you might have been the only one. Protesters waved Mexican flags and were caught on camera burning Trump hats, egging, punching and kicking Trump supporters and calling them “racists” and “fascists”. One police officer was assaulted. Video clips on YouTube show victims almost uniformly white and attackers almost uniformly Hispanic.

A minor skirmish, really, but we’re only in June. It’s a long way to November, and there’s no guarantee the election of a new president — no matter who he or she may be — will do anything to substantially ease racial tensions.

A Squabbling Quasi-Democracy

For better or worse, America is now a quasi-democratic republic comprised of a number of ethnic groups with increasingly divergent interests. (My adjectival “quasi-” has more to do with concerns about the reliability and security of electronic voting than about the validity of U.S. democracy in principle.) The thing is, absent a sustained economic boom or the imposition of order by a strong central government, multicultural states and empires have poor long-term track records for cohesion. Iraq is a fine example: brutal dictatorship kept Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish cultures in line for more than two decades. Remove Saddam and the results speak for themselves.

While many complain about Trump’s “divisive rhetoric”, it seems to me that Trump is merely a symptom of the current American malaise and not the root cause of anything. It is American multiculturalism that most severely threatens its cohesion. Historically at least (as someone has well put it), Diversity + Proximity = War.

And yet multiculturalism is assumed uncritically by many members of Western societies to be an unmitigated good. (Such assumptions are less common in China, Russia, North Vietnam and many, many other countries around the world.) To some in the Christian community multiculturalism is even thought to be (in some bizarre, extended sense) the will of God.

The word multiculturalism is used by different people to mean different things, and the various usages are often conflated.

Natural Multiculturalism

First, the word gets used to describe the obvious historical fact that for various naturally occurring reasons — personal, political, religious, economic — some people leave ethnically homogeneous surroundings to live elsewhere for an indefinite period of time, creating a certain level of ethnic diversity in the host society.

Multiculturalism in this sense is a natural thing, and is probably as old as mankind. In such host countries there is usually a dominant culture to which a certain amount of legal, linguistic and practical conformity is required (“When in Rome …” as the saying goes), along with a number of less influential but still identifiable cultural flavours. When Abraham brought Hebrew culture and the worship of Jehovah to Canaan, it was at first nothing more than a cultural flavour. When Moses brought Hebrew culture back to Canaan after several hundred years in Egypt, it was a very different story indeed!

So far as this natural phenomenon is concerned, Israelite law reminded its citizens to love the sojourner and treat him as an equal. But the word sojourner means “resident alien” and hints at not only an ultimate allegiance outside the nation in which one is a stranger, but also the temporary nature of one’s visit.

Enforced Multiculturalism

Second, the word multiculturalism may be used to describe the intentional government imposition of greater cultural diversity on a (relatively) homogeneous nation. This is a very different thing. Such policies are not the least bit natural, and one has to wonder at both the motives and wisdom of regimes that introduce and perpetuate them. U.S. Democrats have worked this angle effectively to swell their voting base by tens of millions since the passage of Teddy Kennedy’s Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and the powers that be in Germany, Sweden and much of the EU have more recently imposed on an even more artificial shift in ethnic demographics on their citizens. Whether the results are ultimately satisfying to voters in the affected countries remains to be seen.

Present indications are not good.

Christian “Multiculturalism”

Third, a sort of multiculturalism is often said to exist within the Christian church, in which there is “neither Jew nor Greek … for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Likewise, in Revelation we read of a great multitude “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” standing before the throne of the Lamb. That’s both the end game and the current spiritual reality, but we need to recognize that in this present age of grace, the extent to which the Church succeeds or fails in taking a spiritual truth and making it a practical reality hinges on its willingness to abandon cultural loyalties, customs and quirks within the Body of Christ rather than embrace and preserve them.

Government-Imposed Cultural Diversity

With that said, there is nothing specifically Christian about government-imposed cultural diversity, and no valid biblical reason for a Christian to promote a policy of enforced multiculturalism over a more nationalistic approach. There is certainly no good reason for Christians to be calling one another racists and fascists over our preferences.

Yet the spiritual oneness of the Body of Christ continues to be confused with some sort of more general fraternal obligation to the unsaved of other races:
  • Christena Cleveland stops only a hair short of calling white Christians in America racist for largely failing to line up alongside #BlackLivesMatter and “follow Jesus’ footsteps by standing in cross-cultural solidarity with black people” over the Michael Brown shooting and the racial issues it raised. But a desire to reach fellow Americans of all ethnic backgrounds for Christ should not be confused with an obligation to take a firm political stand on an issue where any evidence of racism or wrongdoing by the police is very iffy indeed.
  • Richard Shin of the Glory Church of Jesus Christ says, “Being a part of the global village, we are required to live in harmony with all of the people whom God created”. But our Christian obligation to live at peace with all men has nothing to do with being part of some falsely conceptualized “global village”. It has to do with being members of Something (or Someone) Else entirely. Further, to live at peace with all men is not the same as inviting all men to move in next door. That’s a question of prudence, not theology.
  • David Gushee and a multiracial group of Christian ministers and scholars have released a statement “confessing resistance to Donald Trump as a Christian obligation” on the basis that he is “targeting other races, women, cultures, ethnicities, nations, creeds, and a whole global religion [whatever that last bit means]”. That’s a shame. Our “Christian obligations” have nothing to do with races, cultures, ethnicities, nations, creeds or other religions, either in attacking them or defending them. We are obligated to God’s creation, and to our fellow believers, not to such abstractions.
All One In Christ Jesus

It needs to be remembered that it is ONLY in Christ that Jew and Gentile truly become one. It is certainly not true in the world around us, no matter how many wish it were so.

The “brotherhood of man” makes a great sixties platitude but real brotherhood requires common spiritual parentage. Cain and Abel were brothers genetically but not spiritually, and look how that ended.

Enforced, politicized multiculturalism is nothing more than a failed attempt to mimic the spiritual unity of the Body of Christ in the world at large without the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, the love of the Father and the direction of the Head of the Church. It is Christianity without its main ingredient: Christ. It is Tower of Babel 2.0 — an exercise in human ingenuity and empire building that cannot possibly succeed in the long-term.

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