I had just watched the documentary film, The Final Quarter, about the shocking and sustained racist attacks endured by Australian Indigenous football player, Adam Goodes during the last three years of his career, and I was distressed. Initially I wasn’t sure why, but the outspoken displays of ignorance by columnists and broadcasters like Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones, as they attacked Goodes and defended the booing mob, really got to me.
Then it occurred to me: I’ve often seen these right-wing commentators being quoted by church people to ‘disprove’ things like gender dysphoria or toxic masculinity. Like their favourite Greek chorus, they’ll retweet Bolt, Devine, Jones and Latham whenever they want to defend religious freedom or slam ‘leftists’ for trying to impose cultural Marxism on society. In fact, in their fight to protect our perceived Christian heritage, some church people take great comfort in the broadcasts and columns of Andrew Bolt and the others.
And here they were, that same Greek chorus, baying for the blood of Adam Goodes.
In the US it takes the form of Tucker Carlson downplaying white supremacist movements, or Rush Limbaugh slamming Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib as “anti-semites,” or Dave Daubenmire telling Christians to “pay zero attention” to the victims of a mosque shooting.
Moral outrage, when it has power, is deaf. And it’s easy to feel like neither satire nor the Gospel will stay its brutal hand.
When right-wing columnists and shock-jocks speak with the same voice as some Christian church leaders, you can be sure we live in a distressing time for those of us committed to the values of the Kingdom of God like justice, reconciliation, beauty and wholeness.
In these dark days, important moral issues are reduced to smart-mouthed hot takes, which sound for all intents and purposes like homophobia, and racism, and fossil fuel yahooism (while always being denied as such, of course).
In times like these, it’s tempting to go to ground, to be circumspect, to wait for another day. But if we remain silent now we tacitly play into the general assumption that Christianity is only concerned with ending same-sex marriage, supporting indefinite offshore detention, backing the coal industry, and fighting tooth and nail for its own freedom of speech. And this at a time when Australia is obviously being wracked by the evils of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, islamophobia, systemic poverty and ecological devastation.
In a time as dark and cynical and corrupt as this, you need to look for the campfires of kind and gentle Christian people.
These are those good-souled followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for men, women and children seeking asylum on our shores. Not just yearn, but march and tweet and sign petitions and visit their local politicians and take refugees into their homes.
Look for the campfires of those followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for and reconciliation with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, who yearn for an end to family and domestic violence, and who seek protection for our environment, and peace on earth.
They want what Dr William Barber calls a true moral revival. Speaking about his own country, the USA, he says, “Some issues are not about left and right, Republican and Democrat – they’re about our deepest moral values. And we believe that you have to have a campaign, a movement, that seeks to reshape the moral narrative.”
Martin Luther King referred to these people as the moral defibrillators of our time, to shock this nation with the power of love.
We need to show the love of God’s people who remain committed to ending poverty, and violence against women, and offshore detention; to fuel a renewed commitment to creation care and peacemaking, and racial reconciliation.
I see their campfires in the direct actions of a group like Love Makes a Way, and in the advocacy of people like the Common Grace team, and in communities like Fixing Her Eyes and Parish Collective, and events like the Justice Conference and Surrender. And now is the time for more such campfires to be lit.
As Rabbi Tarfon, a 2nd century Mishnah sage, once wrote, reflecting on Micah 6:8,
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
[This article was first published by Common Grace on August 2, 2019]
9 thoughts on “Look for the campfires of kind and gentle Christian people”
Mike, you’ve said a lot in a few words, and all of it so urgently necessary for christians to hear. Thanks.
Thanks you for pointing to some of those warm campfires Mike. I’m one of many looking for not only a campfire but a tribe (a Christianity) that isn’t so strangely mesmerized by voices other than that of the kingdom of God and his justice.
Thank you Mike for highlighting a problem with the church I find so sadly frustrating!
Great imagery Mike! I think that should be the title of your next book: “Searching for Campfires”. Love it!
Excellent commentary, Mike. Encouraging to those of us who feel misrepresented by a very vocal “christian” Right. Those who love to quote Bolt, Panahi and others of their ilk. Frankly, I have of late been losing my habitual optimism but this put a wee glimmer of hope in my mind. I long to see more campfires around us.
Having very little energy for hospitality, finding my tribe in a country town is with ones and twos, where ‘Jesus in the midst of us’ is sharing coffee or lunch or even something as ‘small’ as a fb smile with a friend or starting a conversation with the refugee behind the counter or saying thank you to the person cleaning the toilets of pushing the supermarket trolly.
Have shared this on my fb pages under the heading:
‘A timely framing by Mike Frost of the task ahead for those of us who see their faith as central to their engagement in our society today’
Thanks! Well written and a helpful manifesto for those of us planning to engage in independent federal politics from this frame of rereference.
Mike, I am in complete agreement with the sentiment of your piece. As a Jewish follower of Yeshua, though, I have a question about your sentence, “Rush Limbaugh slamming Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rahsida Tlaib as anti-Semites.” Is your objection that Rush Limbaugh is the messenger, or that he “slammed” them, or that they are characterized as anti- Semites? If it is the last, given their opposition to Israel’s existence, it is hard for me at least to think they are not anti- Semitic (an admittedly difficult phrase since “Semites” covers many non- Jewish ethnicities.)
Whatever the case, I too believe the American church has failed to live out the love of Yeshua to all people and has been too cozy with those who see the “other” as a danger, rather than image-bearers of the one, true God.
Thank you, Mike. I love the idea (and practice!) of these campfires. What a great picture!
I read this with tears in my eyes.
Let’s light more fires!!