Shut up and listen: a ‘Christian’ response

What’s an appropriate ‘Christian’ response to the white supremacist attack on the mosques in Christchurch on Friday — I mean, apart from our grief, or our support, or our kindness to those who are suffering as a direct result of the attack, or even those traumatised by it from a distance.

Behind my question is the awareness that for white supremacists like the one now before the court, ‘Christianity’ is the justification for the violence they perpetrate. Christianity has become so toxic that it feels like there’s no place for those of us from that tradition to have any sort of voice when things like this happen.

And that’s the point. Perhaps it’s not about having a voice at all. Actually, scratch the ‘perhaps’ — there’s no ‘perhaps’ to this. It’s NOT about having a voice. It’s about having ears.

I saw with dismay this morning that among ‘Christians’ I know who lean to the right, politically, there is gathering indignation over the coverage given to the massacre of Muslims in New Zealand, when similar attacks on Christians around the world have allegedly gone unreported (which they haven’t). Unfortunately, this response among ‘Christians’ from my (evangelical) faith tradition is typical. Again, it’s about having a voice … when they should be having ears.

The Jesus they supposedly follow had plenty to say during the course of his three-year ministry. But when it came to the moment he always knew was ahead of him, when it came to that time and place in which he would stand before the court of the day and accept a judgment that was not his to bear, he was silent. He took it. He gave up his voice … and he listened. In fact, what the biblical storytellers say is that the only words he offered during the agonising hours of his crucifixion, were of consolation … to a thief … of concern … for his mother … of forgiveness … to his crucifiers … of despair … to his God.

That’s where the bar is.

Just shut up and listen.

Like Jesus.

Faith, hope and love are the primary categories for shaping how Christians who follow the crucified God should understand what it is to be a Christian in any time and place. They’re old words though — unhelpful words, in some respects — so let’s use different words to reflect on the same ideas.

Faith describes the story we submit ourselves to for our self-understanding as ‘Christians’. What’s our story?

The overwhelming story in the New Testament that frames who we are as Christians is the story of reconciliation … not our reconciliation to others, but God’s reconciliation to us. The wonder of this story is that it’s achieved by someone else on our behalf. It’s achieved by the man on the cross, who gives up his voice in order to listen … and only speaks when he sees an oppotunity to ease another person’s suffering. That’s our story … forgiven, loved, reconciled, not because of our religion, or our morality, or our privilege, or our knowledge, or theology … but forgiven because it’s what God wanted to do for us. If we are people of faith, then we are people of THAT story.

Love describes the encounter, the miracle of mutual knowing that is allowed to flourish on the basis of that very story. It describes the freedom we have, as people who shut up and listen, to encounter others who are different from us, and to treasure their otherness … to not fear it, to not possess it, to not destroy it. It describes the miracle of knowing and being known, of discovering that despite our loneliness in this world, there are fellow sojourners with whom we not only travel alongside, but we get to talk with them, hear them, be supported and loved by them, ENJOY them, see the world from their eyes and have our own knowledge expanded by their unique place and their unique story. To the Christian, the Muslim is an ‘other’ who is there to be treasured, to be enjoyed, to be known. To the Christian, the refugee, the immigrant, the neighbour, the friend, the colleague … ‘otherness’ is not a basis for fear, or hatred, or violence, or exclusion … it is the very ground, it is the very opportunity, for loving, free, mutual encounter.

Hope describes new creation, new life that flows from the miracle of mutual knowing that occurs in loving encounter. When two people, occupying different spaces, experiencing time in their own unique way, come together in encounter, in mutual knowing, in dialogue, and treasure the otherness of one another, great things occur. New possibilities are born … new innovation is created … life is birthed where there was none … hope arises from despair. None of this is possible for either or both if they are more intent on talking than listening, on advancing their ideas rather than hearing the other. Mutuality means that sometimes, you just have to shut up and listen.

There is nothing Christian about white supremacy. And white supremacists are not Christians. However, in this world, in Trump’s world, in the world post-9/11 which is more dominated by fear than by hope or love, the two HAVE become conflated. Christianity IS toxic. The certainty of our ‘faith’ is abhorrent to people outside of our tradition. The missions we undertake on the belief that they are on behalf of the world, DO feel like colonialism … or, worse, crusades. We, Christians, are not well loved in this world because for too long we have had too much to say … and not enough willingness to just shut up and listen.

So, let’s stop talking. Ironic, I know, in a blog that is full of words. But … let’s stop talking. Let’s stop colonising. Let’s stop being experts on ‘God’. And let’s listen to the ‘other’, for once. And for always.

Just shut up and listen. For Christ’s sake.