Something about the church, NI and ‘the Twelfth’

#thetwelfth: when “Protestant” churches capitulate, in silence or participation, to dominant political ideology and fail to provide a 3rd way.

I believe the church is an alternative to the dominant political, economic, class etc. narrative and ideology we live with(in) in NI.

I believe the church is to be a polis, an outpost, a colony, a pirate island, a flash-mob that is involved in faithfully remembering and realizing the words, “God’s basileia come, God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.” In this sense the church is different, an-other, distinct from those governments, parties and interest groups that exist around it, in whatever country the church is located. The church seeks their good but never at the expense of its faithfulness to Jesus.

In NI I am not sure that this is taking place – and I’m not very hopeful for the foreseeable future.

I’m pretty sure that many (“Protestant”) churches in NI have compromised.

When the flags go up outside the building, when members march, when the national anthem is sung during the ekklesia’s gathering, when those who know better are silent in “calling out” these moments, a compromise has occurred.

Dominant “Protestant” (used irreligiously) imagination in NI is centred on particular definitions of justice, peace, rightness, freedom, etc. that are not distinctly Christian – “the UK will save us!”. (This is not to say a Christian couldn’t in principle endorse something they say, in some qualified way, but it is to say that) The Christian has and is faithful to different commitments, values and definitions. The Christian has a new imagination, another narrative, that embodies and speaks of justice, rightness, freedom and peace etc. as oriented around the life, death, and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus and the basileia that has bee set i motion through the story of his life.

The church is committed to the narrative of Jesus and is the community that is centred around the remembrance of him who has renewed, and is continually renewing, the world – out of love for everything and everyone in it. To be a part of the church (the body of Christ) is to be a representative of Jesus in and to the world; his values, his life, his actions, his death, his love and so on – the church is Christ himself present.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Christ himself present looks like a community of ethnic, class and gendered diversity.

“love y’alls enemies and pray for those who persecute y’all” Matthew 5:44

Christ himself present is a community (defined by inclusive pro-nouns) that loves and works for the tangible betterment of those who would otherwise eliminate it.

I could go on but I assume you know some of the other things that Jesus said – they mostly had to do with loving others and subverting dominant political, economic and class distinctions through kenotic (self-emptying) protest and submission. This is where the “third way” is generated, in breaching the dominant imagination with something new, different and unexpected,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Matt. 5:38-41

The binaries and dualisms of NI are lex talionis through and through, they are the proverbial “eye for eye”. We say “if you hurt us by walking up the Ardoyne, we will hurt you.” “If you dislike and disrespect us, we will dislike and disrespect you.” A third way, with a Matt. 5 hermeneutic, explodes these binaries, not, probably, because of evil people or hierarchical domination but because of the desire to love cruciformly.

Yet, when the bands march, when the drums beat, when the flags are raised, when the anthem is sung (and some other songs about the victory of our ancestors successfully killing your ancestors) and the church joins in(or fails to speak from a distinctly different place) an imagination that is not Jesus’ is at work, and we posture ourselves against the “other” through the remembrance of acts predicated on violence and hate – we fail to embody the third way. (Does the compromise amount to something like this…)

Dominant (Protestant) political ideology/narrative believes that something or someone who is not Jesus has rescued our life in the world (economically, politically etc.) – be it the UK, Elizabeth II or King Billy himself – because we are possessed by fear of “the other”.

The prophetic narrative and imagination that Jesus awakens in the church renders this dominant narrative incoherent for those who are a part of it, as we work for the “commonwealth of God” that comes; not through marches and bands and flag flying, nor through the insecure insistence that “I am not Catholic!”, but through mimicking the self-sacrificing love of God revealed in Jesus, that lays down its own claims to power and wills to embrace its “enemy” in gratuitous forgiveness and love.

This is how the church makes space for itself in the world, by being a community of reconciliation between Loyalist and Republican, working and upper class, gay and straight etc. creating a third way where differences are met with acceptance and God’s justice, peace and freedom are manifested.

This is how the church operates – it creates a third way; the church breaks the binaries and dualisms “otherness” and fear create because it is released from dominant imagination. But…

You can’t do that when you join in.

You can’t do that when you’re silent.

What would it look like if a Basileia tou theou flash-mob took place on The Twelfth? What could your church do?