Anglican Perspectives

We can do better, at home and abroad.

Bishop Bill Atwood

Source:  AAC International Update

The following first appeared in the January 22, 2013 edition of the AAC’s International Update. Sign up for this free email here. 


Before the “Arab Spring” had a name, in the wake of self-immolations across North Africa, I wrote that the collapse of despotic regimes was certain. While there was encouragement in that, there was also a danger. When a foundation is removed, it needs to be replaced with something. Simply removing a dictator does not insure that springtime in Camelot will emerge. Or kindness. Or justice. Or democracy.

In fact, what has happened is one of the scariest possibilities: the expansion of radical Islamists, the expansion of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the entrenchment of al Qaeda.

Last week I wrote about the problems in Mali. In the past few days we have seen al Qaeda perpetrate an attack on an Algerian natural gas plant. Dismissing western military aid, the Algerian forces strafed the attackers and stormed where they were being held. The resulting death toll is over 80. Many of those killed were hostages.

Sadly, similar incidents are likely to occur in other countries; many of them in Northern Africa.

There are only two ways to deal with this effectively. The first is less pleasant but can work for a time. That is to deal with it with force. Force, or the threat of force, can keep some-but not all-attacks at bay, and can slow or sometimes deter acts of violence. It is seductive because it can give the illusion of peace, when it is simply forestalling conflict.

The other way to deal with violence, injustice, and oppression is with the Gospel. Modern culture has wrongly assumed that when obvious evils (like despots) are removed, then culture will be not only peaceful, but also reasonable, and gracious. Sadly, that is not the case. It is hard enough with a Christian worldview to have culture with extended periods of peace and prosperity. Without underlying principles of the Gospel present, it is only a matter of time until the culture begins a downward spiral again. That is the sad truth about the Fall. As transportation and communication have developed, it has become increasingly complex. Someone in a very remote area can export violence.

Principles like justice, fairness, and liberty are not qualities that inherently reign in culture. Our fallen nature demonstrates that, unless there is intervention for good, chaos will ensue. That is why God in Christ came into the world to redeem us. That redemption is not reserved for the sophisticated. It is provided for all of us at our worst. The Good News is that we can be redeemed no matter how far short we fall. We have all fallen short and need a Savior. (Romans 3:23) Without the Good News of Jesus Christ, there is not really any lasting good news. Postmodern culture assumes that the static state of culture is to be gracious and kind. Even worse, many think that things would be better if the Christians would just shut up. Christianity, however, does not bring ill to culture. It brings health.

If the aim is to have a culture that embodies love, joy, and peace, then it is also going to have to be one that embraces Christ. There is no doubt that people like culture to include things like schools, hospitals, justice, and peace, but they need to realize why those things emerged in much of the world. They came from the impact of the Gospel-from changed, redeemed lives sharing the love of the Kingdom. In the US, some 90% of the colleges, universities, and hospitals rose out of the church.

If we are going to have global peace, it is not going to be the result of well-wishing and do-gooding. It is going to require a new strategy to have culturally trained evangelists and mission minded people deployed in North Africa and the Middle East. We need to find, equip, and deploy people who have a deep and abiding love for the culture in which they are working, have the skills to navigate the sensitivities, and the strength to embody the Kingdom that they herald. Contextualization means bringing the truth of the Gospel and relationship with Christ into a given “context.” We can do this and the world will benefit from it. It will take years to penetrate some places, but there is not really an alternative. Not only is it important to do in order to have a more peaceful life, it is the direct command of Jesus to extend the Kingdom of God and bring all its benefits to those who do not yet know Him.

The disturbing, even horrifying, messages that we hear from other lands often seem even more stark when the culture in which they are set is different from our own. There are things aplenty in Western culture that need to be addressed as well. The horrors of abortion, the failure to use material resources well, and the lack of restraint in all kinds of matters sexual are examples. The culture in which Westerners live needs redemption, just like other parts of the world. It is very painful that there are so many things that “used to be” in our culture that have faded, much of it because of the apathy of those who believe in Christ. We can do better, at home and abroad.

– The Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood is Bishop of the International Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America

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