A dedicated team led by Philippa and her gardening expert friend Kate waged war today on the manse garden, which (alarmingly) contained a very high percentage of noxious or pest plants. Let me just acknowledge with warm thanks the whole team - Philippa, Murray, Kate, KC, Leelee, David, Tim (and myself). We facilitated the transportation of over 500kg of green waste to the transfer station, a great morning's work, considering how hot it got towards the end. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash
I have already written of the damage done to the American evangelical movement, by the deliberate and comprehensive entwining of certain political agendas with conservative faith communities and their various priorities. I receive a regular newsletter from Russell Moore, the ethics and religious liberty commissioner of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville TN. His grief is for the splitting of congregations and enmity within families regarding the last 5 years of American presidential politics. The growing conviction of many (if that were not already obvious) is that character matters. The character of those in high office matters a lot. It should matter to those who wholeheartedly endorse that leadership, particularly Christians.
We are thankfully distant from the American situation. So perhaps we do not see the looming calamity for the American church. Regarding the recent storming of the Capitol building in Washington DC, Russell Moore writes;
'The sight of “Jesus Saves” and “God Bless America” signs by those violently storming the Capitol is about more than just inconsistency. It is about a picture of Jesus Christ and of his gospel that is satanic. The mixing of the Christian religion with crazed and counter-biblical cults such as Q-Anon is telling the outside world that this is what the gospel is. That’s a lie, and it is blasphemous against a holy God.
Look around us, five years into this experiment. Every family I know is divided over this personality. Every church I know is too. Friendships are broken, for almost everyone I know. And, most importantly, every survey shows that the church is hemorrhaging the next generation because they believe that evangelicalism is a means to an end to this political movement.'
I write about this because for so many decades the NZ church has received somewhat uncritically so much in the way of teaching and resources, visiting speakers and programmes from the USA. There is much that has been good and of value, I might add. There are some other things to put through a weeding and burning process.
I think the cautionary tale for us is to watch and learn from the mistakes of others. Are there noxious weeds in the garden of our theology and faith to be pulled out pruned? Do we seek political influence where we should instead be bringing a distinct prophetic voice unencumbered by political obligation? The church is salt and light in the wider society, or should be. The church could be John the Baptist yelling 'You brood of vipers!' or Jesus making a whip of cords in the temple court. Thankfully in NZ the church is not being wined and dined by the high priests of politics as in the States. We pray for our leaders, but should never be dazzled by their power and prestige. We owe it to the coming generations to be neither naive nor hypocritical.
Just as removing half a tonne of weeds from the church property is best done as a group activity, so is the work of theological growth, correction and sound teaching in a faith community. We come to another year together, with some expectation and hope. Let us seek both wisdom and love, as we attempt prophetic, hospitable action.
Maybe we need some new words and new sources of prophecy and teaching? Let us believe we can be a homegrown Aotearoa church and nation, with both truth and love our twin goals.