Posted on December 1st, 2010 | Filed under Community, Featured, Interfaith, Philosophy
Tagged with 16 and Pregnant, apostleship, Christendom, Conversion, ecology, Empire, Ghost Adventures, Habitat for Humanity, healing, History, Jersey Shore, love, Man v. Food, mission, MTV, President Jimmy Carter, reconciliation, relationship, sending, Teen Mom, The Real World, Travel Channel, vocation
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but in the past few years we have witnessed the dissolution of the missional integrity of the various previously specialized television networks. The military term is “mission creep,” where the vision or goal of an enterprise is gradually expanded to include things that don’t harmonize with the original assignment. For example, in terms of television, some readers might recall that MTV (as in Music Television) was once the home to 24/7 music videos (MTV’s inaugural mission), though younger readers would be forgiven for not knowing that, since in place of music videos they have become accustomed to MTV as the home of Teen Mom, 16 and Pregnant, and Jersey Shore, alongside a scant 3 hours of music videos. Not to pick on MTV, but here is the perfect example of mission creep: it began with the introduction in 1992’s The Real World. This bright and innovative experiment that bubbled out of a youth culture supported by MTV, has finally devolved into the cognitionally vacant Jersey Shore. Not every change is a creative advance into fruitful novelty. Sometimes it is, on balance, a deprivation, a degradation.
Let’s trace a much more serious brand of mission creep through the Christian movement in its two millennia: a degradation that produces victims. From the Gospel of Mark, we recall that Jesus sent the Twelve “among the villages teaching…and gave them authority over unclean spirits” which they used to “cast out many demons” and to cure many sick persons (6:6-7;13): the mission of healing. By the time of the Gospel of Matthew, this mission of power has expanded not only to include raising the dead, but is also tinged with a note of exclusivity, since the apostles are to “go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:5-8). The mission creep doesn’t stop there. What begins as Jesus sending his apostles to be the power of God healing and enriching human lives, over the Christian centuries becomes an imperative to incorporate everyone into imperial Christendom. What begins as peasants proclaiming their good news which they received in gratitude and which they gave in utter generosity (Mt 10:8-9) gradually becomes the enforcement of rigid creedal assertions by the rich and powerful.
Because Jesus knew the gospel would not always be met with welcome, he instructed his disciples, when faced with such rejection, to shake the dust off their feet. This gesture is demonically transformed into St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s call to rally a Second Crusade, where he says of his opponents that the “might of Christendom has endured too long…without crushing their poisoned heads under its heel.” (Can we read Bernard’s words without recalling the Tea Party supporter of Rand Paul crushing the head of a MoveOn volunteer under his heel before the 2010 midterm election?) During imperial colonialism, as we know all too well, Christendom's mission sided with European empires, and became a sacred tool of oppression where either by genocide or baptism the native peoples of the Americas (for instance) would be “saved.” Last century, when Mao expelled Christian missionaries from China, a total re-evaluation of mission was required, and Christians were reminded of God’s mission (the missio Dei) in which Christians are called to participate. And what has mission largely become today? Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity’s mission perpetuates the trajectory of exclusivist mission creep of “conversion," while liberal Christian mission has become perhaps nothing more than a lovely do-goodery.
What are Christians to make of a world where the meeting of the religions has become an unavoidable fact? What is to be the next evolution of Christian mission creep? It must be a restoration of the healing vision, which is precisely an undoing of the mission creep that has gotten us into this present situation.
What if Christians decided to take up their vocation, their mission to heal the village, which is now the world? Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s work with Habitat for Humanity is one vital answer to that vocation, that sending. He says that “Habitat gives us an opportunity which is very difficult to find: to reach out and work side by side with those who never have had a decent home—but work with them on a completely equal basis. It’s not a big-shot, little-shot relationship. It’s a sense of equality” (http://bit.ly/d932fS). He is not just talking about building houses, but of building a humane habitat of interpersonal relationships. Now, the healing vocation, which is the true mission of Christians, is to reconcile not only human relationships, but to be God’s powerful presence that heals, reconciles, restores and renews all relationships. What if this beleaguered planet’s Christians heard the call of the Father to be the very force of healing, curing the sick, and restoring the conditions for abundant life? If that happened, it wouldn’t matter if anyone else “converted” to Christianity, because at long last Christians would be in the unambiguous business of loving action.
If Travel Channel doesn’t want to teach me how to be a good traveler and prefers instead to take me on Ghost Adventures, and pit Man v. Food, so be it. Heck, Zac, Nick, and Aaron make me laugh (and second guess my goosebumps), and Adam Richman eases my concerns about my portion sizes. Travel Channel’s mission creep doesn’t worry me so much.
But the world is depending on people who can heal the sick and restore the broken relationships of our ecosystems and societies. Working to change or convert another person is a dangerous perversion of ‘love.’ The Christian mission is not to convert their neighbors in other religions, but rather to heal their neighbors, love their neighbors as themselves. From that Christian healing love will come healing love in Buddhist form, in Jewish form, in Hindu form, in Muslim form—in so many forms! And we will see, that all this love is very good.
Let’s have more of that loving (non-creepy) kind of mission creep.
And let’s become a new creation together.
Paul Joseph Greene is attending the second year of his doctoral program, seeking a Ph.D. in systematic theology at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. "Let's talk interreligiously about liberation, identity, power, privilege, creative transformation, process, politics, and Glee! And by virtue of our relationship, let's become a new creation together."