Globality and locality

November 23, 2017

Globality and locality

Kamal Weerakoon

Australian society today operates under conditions of ‘globality’. Our smartphones bring the world to our fingertips. Relatively cheap air transport has enabled an unprecedented degree of international travel and migration. This globality creates exciting opportunities for Christian ministry and mission. But it also potentially creates tension between those who see themselves as patriots, conserving the historical values and ways of life of a particular society, and those who wish to welcome newcomers. The ‘unite the right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which descended into deadly violence, is an extreme example of this.[1]

Christianity enables us to be global without ignoring our local particularities, and be patriotic without claims of racial superiority or nationalistic protectionism. God always intended to bring people from all over the world into relationship with him in a manner which does not wash out cultural and ethnic diversity. God promises to bless all the ‘peoples’ of the world in and through Abraham (Gen 12:3), implying the goodness of the enculturated diversity of those ‘peoples’. Isaiah looks forward to the day when people from many nations will seek Yahweh of Israel at Zion, so that there is world peace (Isa 2:2-3). God became human as Jesus of Nazareth. Christ, the ultimate human being, carries within himself the history of a particular people-group. But precisely as this culturally located man, Jesus died and rose, not just for the Jews, but for the world (Jn 3:16). Therefore, the early church did not require non-Jewish Christians’ obedience to Jewish religio-cultural identity markers—even circumcision, which God gave to Abraham himself (cf. Acts 15:1, 28-29 with Gen 17:10-27). When John sees a vision of a multitude of people ‘from every nation, tribe, people and language’ (Rev 7:9) praising the risen Jesus in the glorious new creation, this implies he could discern their ethno-cultural variety.[2]

Christian identity is not bland homogeneity. God intends us to know ourselves as, and allow ourselves to be identified with, our history, family, and society. But as located Christians, God in Christ calls us to offer our whole selves—including our history, family, and social relationships—to him. God requires us to worship him in and with our ethno-cultural variety.

Contrary to the popular caricature, most Christian missionaries did not impose Western culture upon new converts, but laboured to incorporate local culture into Christian life and worship.[3] For some years, I have participated in a Christmas celebration organised by a Sri Lankan community organisation in Sydney. We sing both English-language carols, and carols in Sinhalese and Tamil. I can tell you that, as a Sri Lankan native, it is deeply soul-stirring to praise the Christ-child in the forms of music native to Sri Lanka.

But this located ethno-cultural worship is not a validation of every aspect of existing culture. Christ’s great commission is to disciple the nations by teaching them to obey all of Christ’s commands (Mt 28:19-20). The New Testament’s instructions concerning godly ways of life predominantly imply validity across times and cultures. One aspect of being an ethno-culturally located Christian is confessing and repenting of ethno-cultural sins, an example being the Indian practice of widow-burning.[4]

One significant aspect of this trans-cultural godliness is love of those who are different. One important Christian virtue is xenophilia (Greek philoxenia: e.g. Rom 12:13)—love of the stranger, the opposite to xenophobia. Christ prayed that his followers would be so united as to be an analogy of the Trinity (Jn 17:11). The NT records international co-operation between churches in mission and social support (e.g. Acts 13:1-4; 15:3, 41; 2 Cor 8-9; Php 4:15; 3 Jn 5-8). Ethno-culturally located Christians are members of the global church—the church ‘catholic’, united across time and space as the one people of God. These are some of the ways that Christian identity gives us a healthy sense of globalised located-ness which enables us to navigate the opportunities, and avoid the toxicities, of contemporary globality.

 

 

[1] Megan Garber, ‘Why Charlottesville?’. The Atlantic 12 Aug 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2017/08/why-charlottesville/536700/; Dara Lind, ‘Unite the Right, the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, explained’. Vox 14 Aug 2017, https://www.vox.com/2017/8/12/16138246/charlottesville-nazi-rally-right-uva; Matt Pearce, ‘Who was responsible for the violence in Charlottesville? Here’s what witnesses say’. LA Times 15 Aug 2017, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-charlottesville-witnesses-20170815-story.html; all accessed 10 Oct 2017.

[2] Christians and institutions have sometimes sought to justify racial segregation on supposedly biblical grounds. The US Southern Baptist Convention has such a past, and has recently made significant public statements repenting of such attitudes (e.g. https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/what-christians-should-know-about-the-alt-right; http://www.christianpost.com/news/russell-moore-on-racism-and-southern-baptists-god-is-giving-us-a-second-chance-131359). J. Daniel Hays engages with the history of biblical interpretation of this issue in his From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (IVP, 2003).

[3] Scott Sunquist, Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory (Baker, 2013), p99. See also pp47-50, 80-81.

[4] For a detailed overview, see Jacqueline Banerjee, ‘Cultural Imperialism or Rescue? The British and Suttee’. The Victorian Web: Literature, History, & Culture in the Age of Victoria 26 July 2014, online at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/empire/india/suttee.html, accessed 21 Aug 2017.



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