Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Problem with Evangelical Hope

The response of the Australian Christian Lobby to Kevin Rudd’s change of heart in relation to same-sex marriage exposes one of the problems with the way evangelicals understand and express hope. The formulation leaves a large and important gap which, paradoxically, robs us of any meaningful hope in the present.
The ACL – not alone, mind you – shapes its hope in clinging to an idealised past (or present), in which many of the changes happening in society need to be undone. In the first instance then, hope is framed as a return to a mythical Garden of Eden, subtly framed as a time when the church ruled the earth, imposing its morality upon all. The implicit depiction is of an immediate future which is characterised as a further descent into… well, it is left unsaid, but the implication is further into an ungodly mess. Which provides the platform for the second aspect of hope: heaven.
In this formulation, the Christian hope is ultimately about getting to heaven when we die. Heaven is thus a consolation prize for enduring the inevitable descent which characterises modern society.
Of course, it is not just same-sex marriage which comes into the firing line to mark this continued descent. Any number of conservative hobby-horses become symbols of a culture which has turned its back on God: abortion, people living together, drug use, pornography, greenies, people opposed to gun ownership (OK, not in Australia!). The items missing from such a list are the ones which reveal an interesting agenda: greed, gossip, unethical corporate activity, environmental vandalism… Each suggesting that the only answer to a hope which is framed around turning back to an idealised past or hanging on to a consolatory future is to get what you can in the present moment.
Of course this is something of a caricature, but the principle essentially holds. The notion that the kingdom of God is breaking out amongst us isn’t part of the package. The idea that there is good news in the present moment which renews hope for eternal life in the here and now doesn’t enter the equation.
The central line of Jesus’ prayer still reads “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” The Christian hope is constructive and creative, and embraces the promise of Jeremiah “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jer 29:11) which is built on the call to “build houses… plant gardens… and seek the peace and prosperity of the city.” (Jer 29:5)
The Christian hope coalesces with much of the hopes of all human beings, and points to a source which enables its fulfilment, and a deeper call which transcends a limited hope in the present moment.
Whatever one may conclude about the call for same-sex marriage, those who wrestle with it share a common hope for a better world and a better community. Surely that’s something Christians can embrace and engage with.

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