From the same-sex marriage debate in Australia to Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall between the USA and Mexico, the Western World seems divided, combative and out of control. In the face of such international uncertainty, a visiting expert on faith literacy has some sobering advice for fearful believers: stay calm and don’t freak out.
Dutch academic Evert-Jan Ouweneel is a speaker at Faith and Culture forums being held this week in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Since 2009, Ouweneel has been World Vision’s Senior Advisor for Public Engagement on Faith and Development – which basically means he informs people around the globe about how collaborating with religious leaders can make for a more harmonious, prosperous world.
Just stay calm and don’t freak out about everything that seems to get out of control in the West.
Christians used to be a dominant force in the Western World, at all levels of society. Ouweneel believes many Christians are confused and full of questions about whether they still have a role in contemporary society. He maintains that they do, but a more important aim for them should be to just not lose their cool.
“Just stay calm and don’t freak out about everything that seems to get out of control in the West,” advises Ouweneel, speaking to Eternity between the forums he is presenting at with Centre for Public Christianity’s Simon Smart.
“The big question is: ‘What do [Christians] do?’ Do we freak out and give into our biological self-centred mechanisms, which are translated into building a big wall around your country. Or – and this is especially the role of faith – can we live out a sense of confidence and trust that this is not all running out of control?”
Once fear starts to fill a society – because people start to lose control and security – it’s contagious.
Ouweneel says he is not only referring to Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s protectionist policies, and how they then impact Christians across societies. “I could give you examples in Europe and [others] could give examples in Australia. They are everywhere in the West; you see fearful responses where people see wealth and security are fading away, and they want to build a big wall around the country, eliminate all evil internally, and make sure evil from the outside won’t get in. That’s not a response out of confidence.”
“Fear is contagious. Once fear starts to fill a society – because people start to lose control and security – it’s contagious and it requires a counter-spirituality, so to speak, to stay confident.”
That’s the response you would expect, given what Jesus did.
Ouweneel describes the Western World’s swirl of political, religious and social beliefs as a “perfect storm” that Christians feel threatened by. To remain calm in the face of uncertainty or division, Ouweneel recommends the “spiritual exercise” of “sticking to a perspective of hope; sticking with compassion and perseverance.”
“The worse thing you want to do now, in times of fear, is to become a nationalist and to become a protectionist, or demonise Islam. That’s not a response you would expect from Christians. Christians should be bridge builders between nations, religions and people of all kinds of backgrounds. That’s the response you would expect, given what Jesus did.”
World Vision's Faith and Culture Forums
14/10/2016 - 17/10/2016