Make Jesus Great Again

Tim Costello calls for a return to the one tribe that unites

In Acts 1:6 we have the very last question asked by the disciples before Jesus ascended to heaven. Curiously it was “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus treats this as if they had asked, “Lord is it now that you’re going to make Israel great again?”

He buys none of this religious nationalism and says “that is not for you to know but you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”

The gospel is when the Holy Spirit empowers us to “Make Jesus Great Again” in every culture. It is not to make any nation great again.

The gospel is internationalist because everyone is made in the image of God. Pentecost is the birth of that multicultural church that fans out from Jerusalem but does not seek the restoration of Jerusalem or making Israel Great Again.

In India, Hindu nationalism under PM Narendra Modi, to restore India’s Hindu identity and greatness, is making it very difficult for Christians and other religious minorities. The same is happening in Russia, Turkey and China. And American evangelicals should remember that MAGA is not the vision of the gospel.

We need the state to be neutral in not imposing any religious narrative through law. Fuelling religious nationalism by a dominant narrative enforced through law leaves Christians very vulnerable where they are a minority and can then see them really persecuted. The state should remain neutral to all overarching interpretations of meaning because then faith can flourish.

This month, I am addressing 70 Liberals from the moderate wing of the party on the topic of religious freedom. I will tell them that for some years I have been worried about how rapidly our culture is retribalising. It has worried me that Christians are caught up in this as much as any secular group.

Sometimes it is called identity politics. It is the dissolving of larger narratives into a group identity narrative. And the group identity characteristically sets itself off as a victim that is persecuted at the hands of other groups.

I think this really hit me when I made some remarks last year published in The Guardian that Christians are not persecuted in Australia and I could show them plenty of places in other nations where they are persecuted.

The response was immediate condemnation from some Christian quarters who were sure that I was wrong and convinced that they were victims of a secular hostility. I agree that there definitely is secular hostility but that is not the same as persecution where we cannot preach or worship freely or run Christian schools. And this conclusion was born out by the Philip Ruddock-led enquiry into religious freedom in Australia. That is not to say we should be concerned to ensure that our laws allow Christian schools and Christian NFP’s to hire Christians and, in that sense, discriminate in employment – but to hype this debate or frame it as persecution is counterproductive.

“Tribalism is actually the dark twin of community.” – David Brookes

What is really going on is the sweeping retribalising that reinforces identity mindsets of persecution.

David Brooks (Republican in his politics) is one of my favourite US authors; he writes the following in his book The Second Mountain: “Tribalism seems like a way to restore the bonds of community. It certainly does bind people together. But it is actually the dark twin of community. Community is connection based on mutual affection. Tribalism, in the sense I am using it here, is connection based on mutual hatred. Community is based on common humanity: tribalism on a common foe.”

“Tribalism is always erecting boundaries and creating friend/enemy distinctions. The tribal mentality is a warrior mentality based on scarcity: Life is a battle for scarce resources and it’s always us versus them, zero sum. The ends justify the means. Politics is war. Ideas are combat. It’s kill or be killed. Mistrust is the worldview of tribalism. Tribalism is community for lonely narcissists. These days, partisanship for many people is not about which political party has the better policies. It’s a conflict.”

Pentecost was putting an end to tribalism and elevating Jesus – the Saviour of all ethnicities, languages and cultures.

We model and proclaim this salvation to the ends of the earth. We refuse to retreat into a tribal victimhood by claiming persecution or confusing the gospel as imposing a religio-nationalistic vision.

Tim Costello is the executive director of Micah Australia and a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity.

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