After buying, lending, losing and re-buying it, I’m finally reading Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace. It’s a bold, stimulating, provocative book. Among many things that stood out to me, one in particular seems relevant to our times.
Volf quotes Zygmunt Bauman in making a point that I think has particular insight and relevance to our times. His comment is that so often, what people seek to do, even oppressed and marginalised people, is to reshuffle the cards, rather than play a different game. “They do not blame the game, only the stronger hand of the adversary”.
It seems to me that much - in fact, almost all - of the social commentary I see by Christians falls fairly and squarely into the ‘reshuffle the cards, rather than play a different game’ mode. Whether from the left or the right, the contribution of Christians so often simply argues for a different set of outcomes, or a different set of policies, or a different mixture of penalties, but still playing the same old game. One sure giveaway is when Christians simply re-post political commentary complaint about this or that injustice from non-Christian sources without re-calibration in the light of the gospel.
How different was Jesus! He never simply called for a reshuffling of the deck - he always changed the game.
Take, for example, his approach to Caesar.
On the one hand, Jesus infuriated the radicals and comforted the conservatives by instructing people to ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’, rather than call for revolution. On the other hand, he antagonised the conservatives and delighted the radicals by accepting the title Lord - because everyone knew that Caesar was Lord, and everyone knew what happened to people who took Caesar’s title!
What was he doing? He was changing the game, refusing to play by the conventional rules, and instead exposing their out-of-kilter-ness with the Kingdom of God.
It takes enormous insight, wisdom, and understanding to change the game rather than just re-shuffle the cards. Do we have enough?
It may be that by the end of the year that there is a plebiscite on changing the statutory definition of marriage to include same sex couples. Perhaps more than in most situations, Christians contributing to this debate need to do better than simply seek to re-shuffle the deck - or keep it the same for that matter. If we do that, we will simply be manoeuvred into a polarised and polarising position, which is unlikely to adorn the gospel - I’d suggest that’s what we’re mostly seeing so far in the initial skirmishes. And all the calls to be gentle, respectful, measured and so forth won’t change that one little bit.
We need to far more like Jesus in this, and seek the insight, wisdom, and understanding, not simply to shuffle the same cards, but to change the game of this debate.