Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christian conduct in church and society

Rowan Williams recently wrote on Apostle Paul's vision of the Christian church:
"For him, the Christian Church was not a human institution – but equally, not even a divine institution in the ordinary sense. It was an imagined social space: a place where human desires found their proper focus and human relations were harmonised accordingly. The Church was where you discovered what you most acutely needed and how you could become most fully what you were created to be – an agent in community, drained of self-will and self-absorption by the pressure of God’s love, so that you could relate to others without fear, rivalry and lust for power."
I wonder if it is legitimate to extend this ecclesiological vision into an ideal pluralistic society that politics attempt to create and sustain? Could this be a Christian political witness? 

Some such as Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank have suggested that the church should be the role model for the society to emulate, however such view assumes an obvious social wall separating the Christians' social reality from non-Christians', as if both groups do not live in the same society or their interaction can be clearly defined and ought to be minimized.

I'm thinking, what if it's the other way around? If churches' beliefs and practices are more often than not being influenced and affected by the society they are situated in, then the political arrangement of the society has both direct and indirect access to the formation of ecclesiastical life. 

If so, then Christian political witness should not prioritize the question 'how should Christians conduct themselves in churches' over 'how should Christians conduct themselves in a pluralistic society'. Christians must learn how to conduct themselves consistently in both the church and the society.

In other words, the "social space" that Christians imagined must be big enough to contain the society as a whole without prematurely distinguishing between the wheat (church) from the weed (non-Christian social reality).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Christian duty and social causes
While trying to push back the fascist form of Islam in Malaysia which impinges onto citizenry liberty of this constitutionally secular country, I am seeing Christians in Singapore trying to advocate a form of Christianity-inspired social-values onto the republic's secular space.

In my observation, the three inter-linked causes of these two phenomena are:
1) the fear of moral deterioration (whether real or imagined) of our late modern era, and
2) the compulsion to protect our own and our community's identity and values, which often lead to
3) the inability to deal with plurality found in society.
For religious people, this means the drawing of social moral boundaries; be it legislating laws or lobbying for informal rules that proscribe what should and should not be allowed in the country. 

To the Muslims, it is differentiating between "haram" and "halal". To the Christians, it is between "principalities and powers of the world" and "gospel principles/values".

In other words, the three inter-linked causes have given rise to a dualistic view of the society, where almost anything can be distinguished either "for" or "against" one's religious values.

When a pamphlet that states "A percentage of every Starbucks purchase is donated to support same-sex marriage" is going around social media, some decided to boycott Starbucks. When it was announced that Adam Lambert is going to perform at Singapore's year-end countdown, 11,000 signed a petition to have him removed from the event.

I don't know how many of these advocates are Christians, but I know of fellow Christians who have participated in them, believing that they are simply carrying out their Christian duty as responsible citizens.

I wonder if they also boycott Google (with all its subsidiaries such as Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, Google Calendar, etc), Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft because they support same-sex marriage? How about Amazon (which owns BookDepository), Procter & Gamble (with all its household products), Nike, and Kraft that owns the famous Oreo

(Any Christian who uses iPhone and wants to be consistent in boycotting Apple, please consider donating your phone, iPod, or iPad to me instead of throwing them away.)

Hardly we find Christians who can be consistent in this regard. They have to pick and choose which product, celebrity, corporation, or organization to boycott. This means that Christians have to pick and choose which values to be deem worthy enough to activate their Christian citizenry responsibility to boycott or sign a petition against. 

In Starbucks' and Lambert's case, the values some Christians choose to uphold are those related to sexuality and/or public decency. But why not they choose to exercise their Christian responsibility over against idolatry, greed, drunkenness, etc?
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, ESV)
If those who advocate against Starbucks and Lambert are to be consistent, then they should also exercise their supposed Christian duty to petition against all other religions' idolatrous practices, against all big companies that are driven by greed, and against all bars, clubs, and convenient stores that sell alcoholic beverages.

I suspect no Christians in Singapore would want to be consistent in this regard. We all pick and choose. And the question worth asking is then, why do we choose certain values and not others? Is it because we have been conditioned by certain authority or social forces? If so, how do we rise above them?

There is no quick-fix to this three inter-linked causes. Therefore, Christians should not be too quick to adopt certain social causes as their Christian duty. This form of civic hesitation is perhaps paradoxically the kind of Christian responsibility that today's believers need to discover.