Monday, July 17, 2006

Shifting the Centers: From Secular Power to Faithfulness

Another thing I took away from Bishop Niringiye's interview with Andy Crouch in Christianity Today was Niringiye's critique of the "center." Given the conversation lately, both on this blog and on Fr. Nick Knisely's Entangled States and in other places such as Fr. Clavier's blog, about what it means to live in the center, this made my ears perk up.

Bishop Niringiye says that God's action happens on the fringes, not in the center. He says:
God very often is working most powerfully far from the center. Jesus is crucified outside Jerusalem—outside—with the very cynical sign over his head, "The King of the Jews." Surprise—he is the King of the Jews. "We had hoped … " say the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, but he did not fulfill our criteria. In Acts, we read that the cross-cultural missionary thrust did not begin in Jerusalem. It began in Antioch, on the periphery, the margins. But Jerusalem is not ready for Antioch! In fact, even when they go to Antioch, it's just to check on what's happening.

I have come to the conclusion that the powerful, those at the center, must begin to realize that the future shape of things does not belong to them. The future shape of things is on the periphery. The future shape of things is not in Jerusalem, but outside. It is Nazareth. It is Antioch.

If you really want to understand the future of Christianity, go and see what is happening in Asia, Africa, Latin America. It's the periphery—but that's where the action is.

The center the Bishop is talking about is not the comprehensive center of the Church that we have been talking about, but the power-base of the culture. Niringiye is talking about what we used to call God's preferential option for the poor. I want to hold this up as yet again a piece of common language and perspective between his church and his experience of Christianity and our church and our experience of Christianity where we hear God's call towards full inclusion.

It is not for us a matter of secular rights or secular justice that causes us to welcome gay and lesbian folks into our congregations, to consider blessing same sex unions, and to ordain GLBT Christians who are called to ordained ministry. Some advocates and some liberals do indeed frame full inclusion as if it is a civil rights issue, but that is not what drives the bus for many of us North American Christians. The same God who reaches into the periphery in Asia, Africa and Latin America, reaches into the periphery in other places as well and find people who hear Jesus' call to follow, other disciples invitation to come and see, and give themselves over to Christ.

As long as we frame our current divide in terms of secular concepts of rights and justice, on the one hand, versus rigidly defined battles of church discipline and property, on the other, then we will never see what God has in store for us as we go into the world, inviting people to come, see and follow Jesus Christ.

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