It seems since becoming a dad I have lost interest in football (as much as I’m ashamed to admit it!) Increasingly I have enjoyed it when people want to talk current affairs or politics. I find it refreshing to discuss ideas with people who don’t share my position. In one conversation recently UKIP was the main topic (in line with the current national conversation). What was more surprising to me, has been number of christians who seem to support UKIP. I find this surprising because of the high number of questionable policies, particularly around immigration.
At this time, UKIP were dominating the headlines and I was reading a book by Erwin McMannus titled “An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind.” The book primarily addresses the issue of how we imagine a church that embraces change by remaining fully committed to its apostolic calling. In it, McMannus explores how a number of global trends, in particular immigration, have impacted our outlook on mission.
‘For two thousand years Jesus has commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations. We have, at best given this command nominal adherence. It seems now that God has brought us to a place in history where he is bringing the nations to us. ‘ (P43)………… The nations are at our front door, we have an opportunity to love our neighbour as ourselves and the practical application of reconciliation is right across the street. (P45)
The reality that God may be bringing the great commission to us is exciting! Like many cities, Belfast is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan, which has caused some elements of the community to become frightened or uncertain. One way the church could help these communities to understand their fears could be to embrace McMannus’ proposal taking what many see as a negative experience into one that is truly positive. How often do we embrace the diversity that surrounds our communities without making them feel they need to become like us? McMannus goes on to suggest the church could respond by saying “It isn’t enough to go to church with a diverse world; God calls us to embrace those who are different as brother and sisters.” The role of the church is to model more than a ‘them and us’ approach but to embrace and encourage diversity to exist.
The challenge for me is how do I place these thoughts into my work with young people in an urban context. Ben Bell in his studies in urban youth ministry draws upon a number of theologians with application to and for the urban. One of these thinkers is Andrew Davey (Urban Christianity and Global Order: Theological Resources for an Urban Future Massachusetts U.S.A., Hendrickson, 2002) who writes the church is ‘rooted and responsive to the concrete reality of urban existence and at the same time creating a ‘utopian horizon for cultural inclusion and transformation (pg 89).’
Davey appears to be saying is that the role of the church is to set the example for how the future should look by modelling inclusivity, challenging the wrongs in society and aiming to bring this utopia closer by speaking out against the wrongs that it witnesses.
Davey goes on to suggest what this utopia might look like when he says;
‘God’s new order is celebrated and claimed among . . . the unemployed, the underpaid, and those caught up in debt; migrants seeking security and work; refugees seeking safety and welcome . . . Christians are called to live a real presence through transnational communities that include, strengthen and give integrity to those on the margins’ (pg 34)
Even though I may feel a sense of duty to at least attempt to challenge through discuss the positions of political parties from my observation I feel that not many of my peers (or group of partners) within the church care enough. It’s often said not to bring up religion or politics when you go into social situations as not to cause offence. Reading both Erwin McMannus and Ben Bell’s work I feel that if we don’t do something to start holding the church to account, in a year’s time when we have our elections it may be too late. A challenge for my next partners and child get together!