Western Christians are *not* in exile
“We’re not actually yet a minority in many places and, in fact, we still hold majority positions in culture.”
A Christian entrepreneur and scholar has warned Christians not to use their eroding position in Western society as an excuse for retreat, but to use every opportunity to bless their neighbours and cities.
Kate Harrison Brennan, CEO of of Anglican Deaconess Ministries (ADM), says Western Christians are in danger of harming their witness to the gospel if they grieve the loss of their position in society and fail to accept the new reality.
At its worst, this can lead to distorted thinking that “looks like really defensive Christianity and a really confrontational posture,” she tells Eternity.
“It can also look like Christian concern and a characterisation of things that are happening, as if there’s impending chaos. That means we’re not seeing what are the real dangers are, and the effects of sin. Nor are we seeing the great opportunities to actually love and bless our neighbours and tell them about Jesus.”
“In modern societies there’s been a change in the place of the church, and with social change, a diminishing proportion of Christians in Western societies,” she says. “If we could come to terms with that fact, we’d be able to deal with those emotions and see that we’re not actually yet a minority in many places and, in fact, we still hold majority positions in culture.”
Harrison Brennan has been CEO of ADM, which trains women for practical and public engagement, for about a year. A former Rhodes scholar and adviser to former prime minister Julia Gillard, she also founded design and technology company Global & Smart.
Christians need to be careful with the provocative idea of being banished from one’s homeland, often for political or punitive reasons.
Harrison Brennan warns Christians not to draw on Old Testament stories of exile to explain their predicament in contemporary society. When the world no longer makes sense, people often draw on stories from the past, she says.
She agrees with David Starling, who quipped in an Eternity News article last year, “Exile, it seems, is the flavour of the year,” that invoking exile as a frame of reference is problematic. Christians need to be careful with the provocative idea of being banished from one’s homeland, often for political or punitive reasons.
“Obviously there were two exiles in the Old Testament,” Harrison Brennan says, “and I think it’s important for Christians to consider why they might want to use that frame today… Clearly we’re not, as Western Christians, in exile, so I think that we’re drawing on a form of story to try to make sense of today, but it doesn’t actually fit with the facts.”
She adds that the frame of exile stops us wanting to know who our neighbours are or to understand positions or motivations.
“We also lose faith and we lose faith in our ability to act. Our Christian witness is undermined. We don’t actually believe that the gospel is powerful.”
However, she does believe that the Old Testament’s stories of exile, when interpreted correctly, can be fuel for our imaginations, faith and hunger for God’s kingdom.
“What’s really challenging about that instruction in Jeremiah was that God was actually asking them to pray for the most open-ended of possibilities.” – Kate Harrison Brennan
For example, she says Jeremiah 29 – which contains the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the exiles and prophets in Babylon – should be treated as poetry.
“Allow it to fire our imaginations for God’s kingdom. Relish it in the way that you savour poetry, not looking for direct translations into life today as in ‘Who’s this actor? Who’s that actor?’ but more letting it be our heart song for being used by God to do his work where we actually are today.
“What’s really challenging about that instruction in Jeremiah was that God was actually asking them to pray for the most open-ended of possibilities – to ‘plant gardens and pray’ for the good of the city. To actually not look to protect the church first but to see our good tied up with the good of our neighbour and the city.”