I’m afraid I got annoyed this week at a specific group within a particular Welsh denomination. I grew up in Wales and am very pleased to say that I have some Welsh blood in me (my grandparents on my Dad’s side were/are Welsh).
However, on the whole I am English. I was born in England, both my parents were born in England and I live in England. I am English.
I happen to think this is a good thing. Something to be proud of. I’ve just come back from another week in our caravan, visiting various attractions and great days out. One visit was to a “living museum” where I was once again reminded of the great depth of history that I belong to and am part of. Of course, there’s much in our past (as in most countries) to be ashamed of, but I still feel that on the whole we can be proud of our history, our culture and who we are as a people. As Prime Minister Hugh Grant says in Love Actually: “We may be a small country, but we’re a great one too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter, David Beckham’s right-foot, David Beckham’s left-foot come to that” This is part of who I am.
I happen to think that it’s ok to be proud of your culture. I remember a couple of years ago going to an international student cafe, at church, in which a group of Polish Students were giving a presentation about their country and I found great enjoyment in seeing these young people share their pride in where they come from and who they are.
However, national pride clearly has a bad side. This is clear even within my own country. We often pride ourselves on our tolerance, but this is largely a myth. I live in a divided country. In Scotland the move to independence is gaining momentum, many Welsh see the English as foreign invaders and the troubles in Northern Ireland speak for themselves. I remember Andy Parsons commenting on Mock the Week: “The Welsh hate the English, the Scottish hate the English, the Northern Irish hate the English and the English … hate most of the rest of the English. We really must be the most tolerant country in the world to live with so many people we can’t ****** stand!” However, the problems run deeper still. I remember having to be shuttled out of my placement school, during my first year uni, because of the race riots in Burnley. Many people in our country really do resent other cultures “intruding” on our own, as the increasing numbers in the BNP show.
And this is where I start to worry. When pride in our own culture turns into hate for others, something has gone wrong. When the brilliance in your own country stops you from seeing the brilliance in the history of others, then we turn them into the enemy. We are superior and they are inferior. And when this creeps in, a dangerous journey has begun.
For five more days, until he retires, my Dad works, as a mission partner, for a certain Welsh denomination of church. He runs a social outreach centre, which has been doing some fantastic work in that area. Unfortunately, the people in charge feel differently and, with some very underhanded dealings, are shutting the centre. Why? Because it’s English-speaking.
To put this in context, at least 90% (that’s generous, probably more like 99%) of the surrounding population do NOT speak Welsh, can NOT speak Welsh and would NOT be able to access the resources offered by the centre if it became Welsh-speaking. Of the small minority that do speak Welsh, they can ALL speak English. Whether or not people like it, the area in question is an English-speaking area. And yet, the people in charge have decided that, unless the centre comes onto “their side” against the “invading English”, then it must close.
Please understand me, I have no problem with people, any people, showing pride in their culture. But to limit the way we reach people in the church is wrong. Of course, the English can be just as guilty. I’ve seen English churches in the centre of Indian/Pakistani areas who refuse to adapt and change to make the gospel more accessible to those around. I’ve seen churches in the middle of working class estates who insist on holding middle class services, complete with posh coffee and a well presented book stall. However, this is not how church is supposed to be done. This is not the way God chooses to do mission. This is not the way God chose to do mission.
When God wanted to reach humankind he didn’t insist humanity adapt to him, but instead became one of us. As the message version of the Bible says:
14The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood. John 1:14
God came to us. The mighty creator of the universe did not choose the way of pride, but the way of humility. Unlike so many churches, he didn’t cling on to his own way of being, but choose to become what the people He was trying to reach were.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! Phil 2:5-8
It seems to me that if we wish to be God’s people here on earth, then we must take the same route. Perhaps the greatest missionary in the early church appears to have behaved in the same way. Always adapting, always willingly accepting the culture of the people around him in order to reach them. As Paul himself puts it:
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Cor. 9:19-22
The amazing thing is, that if we do this we can come to see the wonder and beauty in the cultures we enter into. One of the joys at Trinity College is the rich variety of different nationalities that are represented, both among the students and the faculty. This, unlike what many fear, does not create one monochrome culture, but a rich rainbow of different cultures, each learning and enjoying the best of what each has to offer. This is how the church should be, how God wants the world to be and, praise be to God, the way the world will be.
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
10And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Rev 7:9-10
Since I started to write this blog, the tragedy has occurred in Norway, carried out by a “Christian fundamentalist”. While I disagree with the term (someone who believes in the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith wouldn’t do that!), this is a demonstration of the extreme end of the road that believing yourself to be better than others leads to. Of course, the vast majority would never even contemplate going even close to that far, but be that as it may, when we insist others conform to our culture instead of willingly accepting them as they are, we start on the same road.
I am proud to be English, but I’m much prouder to be a part of God’s people, who will one day be united from “every tribe and language”. The sooner we all, including a particular Welsh denomination, learn that lesson, the more effective we will be at being God’s people. And surely that’s what really matters.
In short, I got annoyed this week at a specific group within a particular Welsh denomination because in the name of Christ they were doing exactly the opposite of what the church are supposed to be doing: building-up walls between people, instead of tearring them down. We have been given the “message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19) so stop prating about and get on with it.