I cannot remember ever hearing anyone in the church make a direct connection between our faith and international relations. Probably the closest we ever got was to pray for persecuted Christians in certain countries. (I don’t remember any prayers in church for persecuted Muslims or Hindus.) Later, when I led worship myself, I did think there was a connection, but being specific felt like entering a minefield, cause members of congregations were not keen on their ministers being ‘political’.
And yet outside of church now, Christians as much as any other Australians are concerned about how we should play our relationship with the USA and China. I found myself wondering if being inspired by the life of Jesus has anything to contribute to our dilemma.
Humans Beings and Nation States Want to be ‘the Biggest on the Block’
Recently, I listened to John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, explain how the USA and China are headed for a battle for power and why Australia should choose to side with the USA or risk the consequences of becoming the enemy of the USA. (You can find his talk on the Radio National website under “Big Ideas” 28th August.) In his view, military power is the most important consideration because survival is the basic human motivation.
Without any sense of judgement, he described his own nation, the USA, as always being ruthless in seizing power. His advice is to accept that nations, like individuals, always want to be the “biggest on the block”.
Is This the Reality We Must Accept?
I found his view of reality depressing, not because it was outrageous or threatening, but because it had the ring of realism. As kids we played “I’m the king of the castle” (not sure if millennials know it). And let’s face it, in politics, private business, public service, even in the church, we all know someone playing that game – maybe even ourselves. Is it just naivety to hope that we adults will grow up and look for the greater good over our own ambitions for positions of power?
I’ve come to accept that the hunger for power is the way of the world and change is costly. But I’m also convinced that there is another way of being. When I was a young Christian, we talked about how to be “in the world but not of the world”. There’s something in that.
Subversive Faith In A World Of Competing Empires
As a progressive, this view of the life of Jesus has only strengthened. I don’t accept that Jesus was naïve when he invited people to live according to alternative and subversive values in the dangerous world of the Roman Empire. These values gave dignity to the oppressed and the empire would not allow that idea to spread. Jesus had to be silenced.
The name and geography of the ‘empire’ has changed a number of times since then, but the nature of empire is still the same. While local and international groups/nations fight over dominance, the powerless and people of faith are told we must choose sides. But caring for the outcast in our world means proclaiming the value of the powerless – not in the Aussie way because they are the underdogs, but because every single life matters.
The lives of villagers on the other side of the world, killed by bombs and drone attacks matter. The lives of ethnic minorities, driven from their family homes of generations, matter. The lives of elderly Australians, neglected or abused in nursing homes, matter. The lives of indigenous communities, struggling with lateral violence and systemic discrimination, matter. Plants and animals nearing extinction because of climate change and expansion into new habitats, matter. The lives of unnamed ordinary people, who devote their time to care for family and neighbours, matter.
But none of these figure in public conversations about the superpowers.
Instead, we resort to weighing up which nation will benefit our safety and economy the most, losing sight of who and what really matters. The conversation must expand.
We Don’t Want to Play
Of course I don’t have a simple answer to the power plays between the USA and China. But I find myself wondering how we can make our voice heard as we say, “No, we don’t want to play that game. We want to develop relationships within our nation and beyond it that addresses our mutual needs and respects the dignity of all those who are being ignored.”
People of faith have a role model in Jesus to inspire us to speak up, to voice alternative values to both of the ‘empires’.