Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Passion of the Christ, 2:
How the Gospel can help us Re-build Montserrat as a Wholesome Community
GEM 04:10:02

C urrently, Let’s Talk is collaborating with Bro Ed Gough and church leaders across our community to promote a festival of Gospel Films, most notably The Passion of the Christ, but also The Hope and The Jesus Film – this last being the most widely seen film in history, now celebrating its 25th Anniversary. However, some wonder: isn’t that religious emphasis a distraction from the main theme of Let’s Talk, i.e. the Montserrat Sustainable Redevelopment Vision?

Last week, we gave a direct answer: The Passion is in part a cautionary tale about how toxic politics opens the doorway to horrible injustice – and as such it will always be relevant as long as the sad saying: “power tends to corrupt” remains true. But, a broader answer is also required, as it now seems strange, offensive or even crazy to many people that traditional Bible-believing “religion” can be seen as a positive force for liberation and development. For, many have been so influenced by (1) secularist thinking and (2) the bad examples of some believers, that Christians too often seem to be simply hypocritical bigots who want to terrorise the wider community by imposing their “outdated prejudices.”

If this were so, we should change our Vision Statement; replacing it with one that rejects the idea of rebuilding Montserrat as a GOD FEARING society. In turn, we would follow the many in the North who enshrine “separation of church and state,” in the modern sense — aptly called “the Atheist’s veto”: keeping God, religiously based moral influences and godliness out of community life, public discussion of issues, and policy-making. But, in fact, truly effective community moral codes have always been religiously rooted. So, now, let us consider a few material (but easily overlooked) facts:

1. While -- sadly – there have been many over the centuries who twisted the Gospel and so have horribly abused the Christian faith to support oppression, it is equally true that ever since the Bible was first put in the hands of the common man 500 years ago, Bible-inspired people have been in the forefront of liberation and true enlightenment. For, many Christians have been leaders (and even, sometimes, martyrs) in the struggles for: freedom of conscience, democratic self-government, the ending of the slave trade and slavery, child labour reform, the rights of the worker, the emancipation of women [e.g. Charles G Finney], ending racism [e.g. Martin Luther King], and more.

2. This is because the first step to positive transformation is repentance. In Paul’s words: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you WERE. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:9 – 11.]

3. Such personal transformation then flows out to the wider community, for, as Paul adds: “the commandments are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” [Rom 13:9 – 10, cf. Matt 7:12 & Lev. 19:15 – 18.] In short, true love has a moral cutting edge: Godly agape-love is that heart-felt force which values and so helps (rather than harms) its neighbours.

4. Nor can we brush these points aside with sarcastic rhetoric about “silly quotations from a backward, dubious, pre-scientific book.” For, it has long been a well-established (but often overlooked) fact of life that the movements that most consistently help people escape self- and socially- destructive, sinful lifestyles are based on the commitment to God and to the love-based godliness that the Gospel calls for. Often, nothing else works.

5. For instance, this Sunday on ZJB, we heard the 2,801st Unshackled radio testimony programme: a show that, for many years, has told how the Gospel changes families and communities one life at a time; just as we may read month by month in the most widely circulated regional magazine: Caribbean Challenge. The Salvation Army has been a global success story, based on this same Gospel principle. The world-renowned Teen Challenge ministry breaks drug addiction through Christian discipleship. Scouting is rooted in godliness and morality. The thousands-strong Exodus ex-homosexual movement (which the so-called mainstream media seem determined to shut out of public discussion!) is based on moral change through commitment to God. Even the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step addiction recovery programme is based on acknowledging “a Higher Power,” AKA God. So strong is this pattern that the United States Government has recently had to reverse its secularism-driven policy and re-fund “faith-based initiatives.”

But, of course, it is never good enough to point out that the Gospel is merely helpful: the key issue is whether it is true – and for that, we have five hundred eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, and the Gospel’s continued, miracle-working, life-transforming power right down to today. Thus, we can easily see that the Gospel message (of which the passion story is the core) is solidly established, sound, effective, powerfully transforming truth. So, while we should -- and do in fact! -- respect the fact that people who disagree with the Gospel have rights to freedom of thought, expression and conscience; wisdom is to re-build and develop our community on sound, life- and community- transforming truth: in one word, the Gospel. For, “[e]xcept the LORD builds the house, its workmen labour in vain . . .” [Ps. 127:1a.] So, now, let’s talk . . . AMEN

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