Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Steve Chalke, morality and identity

Christianity is not an ethical code, a means of morality that teaches people how to be 'good' and 'decent' people. Morality code Christianity leads us from the Way of Jesus towards a road of individualism, legalistic codes that decide whose 'in' and 'out' and non-differation between any number of religious and secular groups around the world. Being 'good' is not the goal of following Jesus.

However, it seems to me that the debates, arguments and fall out over Steve Chalke and the Evangelical Alliance removing Oasis from its membership has in some way to do with a morality code Christianity. The EA have determined a certain view on sexuality, Steve Chalke holds a different view and they have found each other wanting; EA have an ethical and moral code to stand by and Oasis do not sit favourably in light of this code.
The problem is that Christianity is not a morality ethic, it is a calling to Life. The Way of Jesus is about Life; Life with God and Life with one another. The dominant narrative in our world is violence and death, yet Jesus subverts, rewrites and destroys this narrative with His Life, his self-giving of this Life to death in order to redeem all things. So Jesus is continually calling people to Life and away from those attitudes, behaviours and actions that encourage violence and death. It is a calling to live well with God in relationship, knowing and experiencing His love and Life. Relationships are not founded on a moral code but on trust, self-sacrifice, love and grace.

Relationships are also very messy. Yet morality codes seek to erase the messiness in order to keep things tidy.

Interestingly a lot of language has been used about 'identity' throughout this fallout and what it means to be 'evangelical'; there is a perceived 'loss' of identity. People are concerned 'evangelical' or 'Christian' no longer mean what they should and that people are using these terms who shouldn't be using these terms to describe themselves.

Undifferentiated sameness.

So in order to restore identity and a sense of 'difference' there is a felt need for an expulsion. This expulsion restores a sense of identity, a difference; security and safety is restored. We are able to point the figure at what has been causing our loss of identity, name the cause and thus restore our difference.

Further to this is our desire to 'name' or 'call' people and so try and create their identity for them with the hope that they eventually believe and behave according to the identity we are seeking to shape for them; advertisers and have figured this out and utilise this manipulation to monumental success. So in our expulsion we also create an identity for the one we excluded in the hope that eventually they themselves might believe the 'name' we have given them.

Jesus subverts this entire process through his life, death and resurrection. He reveals the scapegoating mechanisms we use, subverts them and uses them to reveal our desire to lynch a victim. He opens our eyes to see, like Peter, that God does not call any person profane or impure (Acts 10:28 - See James Alison, Raising Able). Jesus himself willingly chooses the role of the scapegoat, absorbs the violence that surrounds this entire process and calls us out to a new reality where violence, morality codes, expulsions and death are no longer our narrative but Life with God and each other is.

My sense is that this entire debate around Oasis and the EA is merely a playing out of these issues.


Jeff Jacobson said...

Hey Joe,

Really appreciated this blog and has had be thinking quite a lot, and probably most of this has gone over my head and I might be missing the point.

Is there to be a morality within the church?

I was thinking about the guy Paul had removed from the church in Corinth, and him responding to Paul, "What is this strange morality code that you applying to me, has not Christ absorbed that? Why are you trying to scapegoat me, is it just to protect your identities? We are all just trying to follow the Way aren't we?"

Do you think the case then is similar this case with Oasis and the EA? Or am I missing something?

Joe Haward said...

Hey mate - My point is that when we base Christian faith on a holiness or morality code then we end up with an Oasis/EA situation that then results in some kind of expulsion.

Following the Way (as Acts puts it) will no doubt mean there is ethics, morality and a call to be holy, and rightly so, but that is a consequence of life with God, loving God and others. This however looks a bit more messy though as early church studies make clear. :) My emphasis would want to be on life lived faithfully and in relationship with God not on an arbitrary moral code that will change generation by generation. Does that help?

Jeff Jacobson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Jacobson said...

Thanks for your reply Joe,

I think your right, that we want to focus on life faithfully lived in relationship with God.

But is there not a place to remove the brother who is rejecting the morality of that faithful life, without scapegoating and trying to protect some identity?

I would think that sleeping with your father's wife is not a arbitrary morality that is changed generationally (back to the 1 Cor event and not the EA/Oasis event :) ). As the church (and preferably not some para-church organisation) we would call someone like that to repentance, back to a faithful relationship with God.

Joe Haward said...

You're absolutely right about repentance, it is key to the Christian life. Repentance is about a turning around, a change of direction from sin and death to God and life.

It is interesting how rare church discipline is mentioned in the NT and how in the same letter where it is mentioned Paul calls out the sin of those sleeping with prostitutes, calls them to repent buy still sees them as 'in Christ'. So there are undoubtedly occasions like the example in Corinthians you give of church discipline for the sake of the person and the church - some Christians are in such destructive behaviour that it needs to named for what it is. But church discipline is not the 'norm' in the NT.

When we have some kind of 'rule based' faith rather than 'grace filled' then that is when it becomes arbitrary rules resulting in expulsions and scapegoating.

In terms of Oasis/EA I think this has a lot to do with identity and a struggle with what it means to be evangelical that has then resulted in where we are.

tony mayes said...

Thought provoking Joe - There should be a place for church discipline. One place where Jesus is pretty clear on church discipline is Matt 18. This is the basis for much of dispute resolution in church, or should be.

The problem is, I think, that if what some have read in scripture is not what others agree with, there will be splits. Its the story of the church ...

Jeff Jacobson said...

Thanks Joe, really appreciate your thinking on the matter.