A week or so on from my past post and our world (well, perhaps it is "the Western world" ... no statues being toppled in North Korea) is both as sane and as mad as ever.
The sane aspect is we are reflecting at a deeper level on the subtleties of endemic, implicit racism (e.g. where we white people think we have it all sorted but don't reflect on why it is that (say) the committee we belong to or the leadership structure we are part of is uniformly white). A Press column this morning by a local academic Mahdis Azarmandi captures neatly the difference between intention (to be racism free) and outcome (everything remains dominated by the colour "white").
A further part of the sanity is questioning whether we have fully understood the complexities of the historical background to present situations (e.g. does this statue or that street name over simplify the past through focus on success or virtue rather than on failure or flaw of some historical personnage).
I also appreciate the sanity of comments made here on ADU - thank you!
The mad aspect of the past week or so is a global Western society seemingly willing to turn on itself, to accuse itself of failure without sober estimation of success and to make hasty decisions on the basis of a minority approach to matters which otherwise would be maturely handled with debate and democratic process.
A further part of the madness, however, is yet another black person killed by police in the USA, and the deterioration of democratic process in the normal world leader in democracy, the USA. A Trumpian approach to democracy can scarcely complain about mob rule raging through US cities!
But what is a Christian to do and to think through these weeks?
Is it all a debate between Romans 13 and Revelation 13? (Is that debate even needed when it is city councils voting to "defund" the police? If Trump is your president, has he really been appointed by God? But if he hasn't, he is so bizarre that I found myself - rereading Revelation - unable to see him as a simple beastly manifestation of evil?)
Is it (per one post I read) a neat conceptual analysis in which I refuse to "bow the knee" for Black Lives Matter (because I discover this movement includes lots of socialist-come-communist type agenda) but will "bow the knee" for Jesus? Apparently bishops and politicians around the world have been arranging photo opportunities for the former when the bishops should have been focused on the latter.
Is it possible - it seems it is - that almost any thought I have about these matters, on second thoughts and closer inspection turns out to reek of privilege and shine with whiteness?
My humble (as a not entirely up with the play pundit) but probably privileged (as a white person with a certain set of advantages through education etc) thought is to ask what the Kingdom of God might be in this situation? I hope it is okay to ask this question.
What is the Kingdom of God like?
Jesus gives the answer in a number of parables which is kind of not an answer because we have had 2000 years of debating the meaning of some parables! Some unkind observers might say that we have also had 2000 years of avoiding application of the meaning of the parables we have not debated.
But the Kingdom of God is about life with the King - with Jesus as the centre of society - God's new society. In this society the first will be last and the last will be first. Jews and Greeks, Samaritans and Romans, all from east and west and north and south are welcome. There is no racism in the Kingdom (e.g. Galatians 3:28) because the King is equally King of all in his kingdom. There is no racism in the Kingdom because there is no people group Jesus did not die for.
Yes, many Christians have misunderstood this, from infamous examples like Afrikaners touting the Bible as supporting Apartheid through to all the not famous examples of you and me inadvertantly contributing to the kinds of outcomes Mahdis Azarmandi writes about in the column linked to above.
Also, Yes, when we understand the Kingdom better (as, e.g. Simon Peter did, through the testimony of Cornelius), we cannot go back, only forward towards the realization of Galatians 3:28.
But the Kingdom of God is also like this: In the Gospel according to John, "kingdom of God" becomes "eternal life" (read John 3) and eternal life (also "abundant life", John 10:10) is the complete - satisfying, fulfilled - life of the believer in Jesus Christ. That is, in a situation such as today's, when "action" - protests, statue toppling, statute revision, name changing (to say nothing of counter-action and resistance to change) - is to the fore, the Kingdom of God in this situation is not only about social change towards God's vision for a new, ideal society. It is also about each human person finding their best life in God - Jesus the centre of each life as well as the centre of society.
A whole of gospel witness to the Kingdom cannot see "action" as the sole demonstration of the transformative power of God in the political realms of today's world.
A whole of gospel witness to the Kingdom sees the need for all people to be transformed by God's power: to be free of racism is not yet to be free of all sin - of the flaws within which damage our neighbours and fracture our relationship with our Creator.
When we debate here in NZ whether statues of Captain Cook should remain standing or towns such as Cromwell (named for Oliver not Thomas) should be renamed, isn't King Jesus more interested in who we, today's flawed characters, are, and what we are going to do about our flaws?
Might we also say that a Kingdom perspective would also raise questions about "realms" and "reigns" as the presence of "other kingdoms" is felt by Christians?
There is something chilling in the air these days when not only statues but also other viewpoints are "smashed". When dissent is not tolerated, freedom to preach the gospel of the kingdom is threatened. Whether we are in the realm of Trump (suppressing the truth, dismissing dissenters, making fun of worthy opponents), or the reign of Xi Jinping (cracking down on protestors in Hong Kong, imprisoning Uighur Muslims, playing games with the Vatican) or in the kingdom of protest feeling pressed to change the name of a pub, we Christians have a lot of work to do between Romans 13 and Revelation 13 because, frankly, I am not sure that any of these realms are addressed comprehensively by either chapter!
What does it mean to be in the Kingdom of God in the kingdom of this sane and mad world?