What role for God in Ireland's future?
“When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the meek, the mourners, the peacemakers and those who are hungry for God’s justice.” The Right Reverend Professor N.T. Wright from St Andrew’s University tonight (Friday 21 October) delivered the 5th Annual C. S. Lewis Lecture in Dublin’s Radisson Blu Hotel.
“People imagine that the place of Christian faith in public life will be a matter of imposing ‘our standards’ on everyone else,” said Prof. Wright. “Instead, in the New Testament, ‘good works’ are what Christians are supposed to be doing for the wider community.”
Described by TIME magazine as “one of the most formidable figures in the world of Christian thought” Prof. Wright questioned the secular modernism that has created a climate, which is against the church having anything to say at all, let alone in public life.
“The modernist ideology [says] religion is something for consenting adults in private, because God and the world simply don’t mix”. It embraces “the brave new world where ‘human rights’ means that everyone has the right to do whatever they like,” Prof. Wright said.
While acknowledging the scandals and failures of the church that have so often dominated our headlines, he called for a balanced view and pointed to the guillotine and the gas chamber as two of the most potent and revealing symbols of modern secularism.
“For every Christian leader who ends up in court or in the newspapers there are hundreds and thousands who are doing a great job, unnoticed except within their own communities,” he added.
“The church is not supposed to be a society of perfect people doing great work. It’s a society of forgiven sinners working for Jesus’ kingdom in every way they can, knowing themselves to be unworthy of the task.”
Western civilization has rightly rejected the concept of “theocracy”. “When people claim that God’s in charge what they normally mean is that their interpretation of God and his rule must be given absolute status,” Wright argued.
Instead Christians engaging in their communities and in public life should interact on the basis of love not power. “God’s whole style of operating reflects his generous love.”Agents of Jesus’ should demonstrate the same vulnerable, gentle but powerful self-giving love.
Christians have made significant contributions to world history through this kind of engagement.
Citing William Wilberforce’s fight to abolish slavery, Desmond Tutu efforts not just to end apartheid but to produce a reconciled, forgiving South Africa and people like Cicely Saunders who started a Hospice for terminally ill patients that has spread across the globe, Prof. Wright called for the church to live out its calling as “salt and light” in the world.
“There are millions of things, which the church should be getting stuck into that world rulers don’t bother about,” he said.
The new opposition
While modern democracies have sought to ensure accountability in public life through political opposition and journalistic comment, all too often this has failed to address corruption and injustice within our systems of government. We all know that this is a very blunt instrument. Accountability isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“Those who follow Jesus have the task, front and centre within their vocation, of being the real ‘opposition’,” Prof. Wright claimed, a role that the church has often neglected in recent history.
“We must speak up and speak out. Each generation, and each local church, needs to figure out wise and appropriate ways of speaking the truth to power.”
“This doesn’t mean that they must actually ‘oppose’ everything that the government tries to do. They must affirm what can be affirmed, point out things that are lacking, critique what needs critiquing and denounce, on occasion, what needs denouncing.”
Historically, Christians were the champions of the poor and the oppressed. “They spoke up for their rights; they spoke out against those who would abuse and ill-treat them.”
Calling for “Beatitude” people
When Christian faith is doing its job within the public life of a nation, peacemakers will be putting arms manufacturers out of business. Those who are hungry for justice will speak up on behalf of those who are bottom of the pile. The merciful will surprise everyone by showing a different way to do human relations and followers of Jesus will have a positive effect as light and salt in their communities.
“Jesus went about feeding the hungry, curing the sick and rescuing lost sheep; his Body is supposed to be doing the same. That is how his kingdom is at work,” Prof. Wright said.