Christians need a new foreign policy. Of course, it seems strange to talk about Christians having a 'foreign policy'. We're not a country, and if you're a Protestant, it's hard to even talk about a unified church. Although, all attempts at theology presuppose some unity, or at least a gesture at unity around some basic truth, practice etc. etc. etc. However, back to our foreign policy.
We've gone and done an interesting thing in our comfortable western nations. We have neglected our attitudes towards strangers, as a whole (not as individuals mind you, I am sure you are all wonderful to those around you). We have forgotten that we are to live as strangers in this world (Peter's first epistle suggests this amply enough) and instead lived in this world as if we have made it our home. We are almost too naturalised, too familiar and too native to the concrete jungle or the comfortable farmyard villa.
But we live in a strange new world today. I think it is easy for us to think, in the west, of ourselves as under a new siege. Politically, we fear the strange orient, especially with ISIS (or ISIL, or simply IS) threatening us. Ecologically, some of us at least, fear the impending doom of Global Warming. (Us in NZ are apparently going to be mildly OK, we'll have to do without imported goods, but we have plenty of fresh water and fish) while biologically the threat of Ebola presses on our borders.
Internally even, some of us fear our own governments increasing surveillance and power. Suffice to say, we live in a new world at the turn of the 21st century. The old policy of Christians, which seemed to my generation to be a hogde-podge of moral declamation and something that looked to us like self-interested political activism; defending certain foreign policies that look a little indefensible. Not to say, of course, that we would have done any better, but rather that these models of engagement assumed either extreme antagonism towards outsiders or extreme anxiety over things we have since come to peace with. So, what I am saying is that we need a new foreign policy, a new way of living differently in this world.
Materially we are very bound up with attaining a certain independence through wealth. Fair enough, we all feel the pull of achieving financial freedom through work, the old German saying 'Arbeit Macht Frei' seems to have become morbidly true. Freedom is no longer (if it ever was) a pre-condition to work and self-expression, but the result of it.
A different vision
The church, though, actually could offer a different vision here. We are not people who worked to attain freedom, and it definitely was not money which gave us this, but rather as Christ himself said 'the Truth will set you free'. We are free not because we have a good 9–5 job, but because we know Christ. We have bought far too much into prosperity, even for the noble cause of giving to others, we instead need to refocus our attention, and our message, on Truth, and we need to enable people to experience freedom not as a segway back into responsible citizenship as the world defined it, but as selfless living and serving as Jesus defined it. This in and of itself should help us refocus some of our trepidation towards Ebola and leaving it over 'there' as an 'African' problem.
Internally we have, publically anyway, tended to favour economic stability over social justice, trusting faceless businesses and industries with our financial future in a system that itself favours self-interest and 'rugged individualism' over societal good and collective goals. My current generation is staggering under a mounting pile of debt that no government anywhere (sans Northern European countries apparently) seems interested in alleviating, and of course the aforementioned freedom we are supposed to have is stifled by our attempt to be homo economicus rather than homo sapiens.
Our attempts in being in this world have I think failed to create a good society. I think it is indicative that what was once considered a 'Christian society' in the west has left us with quite a different one in the 21st century. This connection probably deserves more stud as a case of either continuity, or discontinuity. As an exercise for the reader, I leave up to themselves to decide which hypothesis I am inclined towards.
A foreign policy, one of more inclusive internal unity, and less xenophobic external action, would I think rehabilitate the gospel as one of peace and trust. This is not to say that it should change, or bend on any particular issue, but I think Christians are going to be fighting a battle of words over how to define ourselves.
This current generations choice of vocabulary and posture could very well decide the fate and position of the next one with regard to its ability to encourage and nurture the gospel, being faithful stewards for the next generation.
First published October 28, 2014
Dale Wang (23) is writing a MA thesis in Classical Studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch while making slightly passable coffee at Starbucks. He has been heavily involved in the Christian Union on campus, being their communications officer and leading bible studies. He is also married to his significantly better half, Emma.
Dale Wang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dale-wang.html