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According to this author, it’s time history repeated itself after adapting to the completely changed current context. Tackling the ‘woke apostasy’ where Christian mores and assumptions are abandoned in favour of several different popular cultural strands (aka ‘cancel culture’) has to be a priority if a return to Bible-based values is to direct society towards peace and harmony while encouraging acceptance and tolerance. Reading between the lines, it seems that the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership co-ordinator, Chuck Stephens, believes socialism and liberalism, both with deep roots in Christianity, have lost their way. Interestingly, the argument is framed in terms of a battle, a push to retake the high ground. There’s no idealistic ‘love will conquer all’, but a seven-point blueprint for recapture. If it was meant to get under the cerebral skin, it almost surely succeeds. Meanwhile, Chuck continues with his youth development work, one life at a time. – Chris Bateman
Beginning another ‘Reconquista Cristã’
Make a New Year’s resolution to do your part
By Chuck Stephens*
For three centuries after Jesus was executed by the Romans, his following grew by leaps and bounds. The Romans finally gave up trying to suppress it and the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. If you can’t beat them, join them. He and other emperors succeeded in subduing the church in another way; merging it with the power and military might of the Roman Empire.
After another three centuries of an unbanned church, a new monotheist religion (Islam) arose in Arabia. It soon swept right across North Africa, and then crossed into the Iberian peninsula at the pillars of Hercules. Christianity retreated to the northern half of Iberia. The relics of St James were urgently moved to safety at Compostela on the outer Atlantic coast.
Then came another three centuries of regrouping into alliances to press Islam back across the Mediterranean to North Africa. This is called the ‘Reconquista Cristã’ (i.e. Christian Reconquest). We live in a similar time when once-familiar Christian morays and assumptions have been submerged or even abandoned in favour of another cultural onslaught. Some call it ‘cancel culture’, which is a broad alliance of forces opposed to Christianity’s predominance in Europe, the Americas and Africa. I will try to identify some of the best-known strands of ‘woke apostasy’ and then turn to New Year’s resolutions that Christians can make to try to win back lost ground.
I must emphasize that this is not a paid political announcement! My motives are reverence and orthodoxy. I am shamelessly Christian, without claiming to be perfect. Christians are human and as such imperfect, and the church has made mistakes. Some big mistakes. But we will be diminished by losing its influence on history, going forward.
First, there has been a huge shift away from morality to relativism. Right and wrong are out, and human rights are in. I won’t digress into how this transpired, at the time of the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. The best-known spokesmen for this debate were Desi Erasmus in Holland and Martin Luther in Germany. Erasmus was one of the early humanists. Essentially, Luther set about to cleanse the church but Erasmus was looking for a new compass. Out of this new trending came enlightenment and humanism.
According to historian Noah Yuval Harari: “Humanist religions worship humanity, or more correctly, Homo sapiens.” Harari then makes a familiar distinction between liberal humanists, socialist humanists and social Darwinists. He explains that the liberal strand arose from the Christian concept of free and individual souls, whereas socialism stems from another Christian doctrine: that all people are created equal before God. As an Israeli, Harari points out the perils of social Darwinism, in terms of its influence on the Nazis and the notion of a super-race. That was a dead-end street.
Personally, I find it noteworthy to see that our Leftist options – liberalism and socialism – have deep roots in Christianity via humanism. I also see that ‘science’ can lead politicians astray. I suspect that as recently as the Covid-19 pandemic, this has happened again. For there is – as I write – a huge clash over whether individual rights should prevail (anti-maskers, non-vaxxers, etc.) or whether that should be subordinated to societal protection, a more socialist tendency. The term ‘herd immunity’ comes to mind.
When it comes to human rights, there are always opposing interests. For example, the right to privacy versus freedom of expression. There are no commandments now, as rights are not totally exclusive of one another. There are just never-ending debates about balancing the rights of the foetus with the rights of the mother; the rights of the planet with the right of free enterprise; or the rights of indigenous people with the rights of those who arrived later in history and subdued them. Welcome to the world of relativism.
For monotheists like me who still believe in God as the highest authority, it is hard to engage in rights-based debates. We tend to look up what the scriptures say about an issue. Then we are condemned for imposing our beliefs on others. This raises a fundamental issue about cancel culture, namely: tolerance. It seems to me that Christianity has been very tolerant of other views to its own detriment recognise that some don’t see it that way, they see Christians as holier-than-thou, top-down, domineering supremacists.
To be fair, it is hard to categorise two thousand years of Christians – orthodox, Catholic and Protestant – one way or the other. Both extremes have been true, at times, and in places. Certainly, Christendom has managed to reform itself and to better the world in many ways. It has also made mistakes and continues to do so. But there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Faith is an integral part of human existence. Worship and prayer are good for people. Faith-based outreach (aka missionary work) has done wonders for people all round the world. It has done us proud and I for one reject any totalitarian attempt to sweep it aside. Not in the name of humanism, not in the name of science, and not in the name of egalitarianism.
Take BLM as an example, or defunding the police, which piggybacked on those protest marches all over North America and beyond. Did they forget Christians had once been at the forefront of the Anti-Slavery Bill in the UK, and the abolition movement in the USA? Names like William Wilberforce and Helen Beecher Stowe come quickly to mind. In Africa, missionaries had sacrificed life and limb to reach out to the illiterate and the oppressed. I recognise there are diverse perceptions on this, and that as a career missionary I must confess my bias. But it was Father Trevor Huddleson who gave Hugh Masekela his first trumpet. So what else can I say?
I lament that Abe Lincoln was assassinated just after his re-election, by a white supremacist, and that slavery morphed into contract-leasing and Jim Crow. I lament that in spite of relatively liberal policies in the Cape colony after the battle of Trafalgar when British hegemony was cemented in Cape Town, that the Boers trekked north across the Vaal River to set up their own republics, out of which eventually evolved Grand Apartheid. Some churches endorsed apartheid and others opposed it vehemently.
My sense of BLM is that its forward march has been quite intolerant. There was precious little social distancing as Covid-19 was spreading fast. They were breathing fire and the damages from arson were disproportionate to court decisions that have been made since.
If a new Reconquista Cristã is the higher goal, then what are some lesser objectives? I list seven here, with some thoughts on related New Year’s resolutions for 2022.
First comes securing education from becoming indoctrination. Especially at varsity level. In the National Post, Conrad Black wrote a critique of what the University of Toronto has become, and it was astounding. The question is which is best: fight or flight? Do we need to regain lost ground in our public institutions? Or simply run separate schools and Christian universities? There are two schools of thought. One resolution might be to withdraw our children from public schools in favour of home-schooling? That is also a Covid-19-friendly approach.
Second comes standing up for our rights. We need to sign petitions, attend marches and engage our representatives. Make a resolution to echo Martin Luther’s, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Don’t let the status quo crush religion to shreds. Remember ‘Save South Africa’? In my view, it worked!
Third, we need to assure freedom of worship. And not just for Christians. Is the no-burkas policy really just a security precaution 0r a top-down act of secularism? More people should attend church, more often. Staying home is surrender. Make a resolution to support a local church. They serve many critical roles in our communities.
Fourth, speak out about how to care for creation without worshipping nature. There are biblical underpinnings for Earth care. Climate change is nothing new; even Abraham departed from Ur as a climate refugee. Saints like Francis emphasized Earth care as opposed to exploitation. Will bokkie Elon Musk become a saint for switching off fossil fuels?
Fifth, we should think through the issues of population explosion and birth control. These are closely related to climate change and runaway migrations. Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the Earth. When the Earth is full, then reset your objectives accordingly.
Sixth, adopt strategies for poverty and progress that are biblical. Don’t let capitalism, liberal humanism, scientific socialism or social Darwinism define the way you care and share. Jubilee is the key Old Testament principle and koinonia is the key New Testament principle. These two should be at the forefront of Christian action. Be generous. Please God.
Seventh and last, adapt your giving to keep it relevant. There was a time when missions spent money on proclaiming the good news. Then came a century or two when mission schools and hospitals were paramount. Then came a half-century of relief and development agencies, addressing emergencies and poverty. The order of the day in the 21st century is public engagement. Make a New Year’s resolution to support those who are busy with advocacy and lobbying. These are all facets of Christian outreach.
If each and every Christian commits to do their part, a new Christian Reconquest is not inconceivable. We have lost a lot of ground, but we can win it back. History is cyclical, not linear. It will not be easy if we give up and capitulate to forces that are hostile to faith. Please note that I have not said how you should vote. My message is non-partisan. Christians vote variously, as it should be. Pray and act. Ora et labora.
- Chuck Stephens works at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership. He has written this article in his own capacity.
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