Recently, I used the word “hypnotized” to describe the way the churches of a Western cultural framework have been impacted by their relationship with the cultures and governance of Euro-North American countries. A good friend asked, “What does that mean?” So, I will try to explain.
The church, as the body of Christ, is to be influenced by culture and to influence it. The church has a vocation in the Spirit’s work to make the gospel living and real in particular places, times and peoples and, at the same time, to challenge human culture with the claims of God on all creation, as they are revealed in the love and healing of the Good News. The followers of Jesus are to proclaim a good news that simultaneously saves life and confronts the idolatry that destroys life.
As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process has demonstrated in Canada, churches all but abandoned both aspects of their gospel in their participation in some of the worst aspects of the colonial occupation of Turtle Island. It was, we could say, hypnotized by the military and economic power of its cultural context, its own apparent success in embodying gospel ideas in Western culture and its hope to be an influential player in the spread of Western culture. The church, as an institution, appears to have been hypnotized into believing that the progress of Western culture was also the progress of its own work. Hypnotized, it abandoned the most critical aspects of its work: the prophetic and challenging proclamation of God’s truth and loving service to all, whatever their origin, belief or station in life.
As a warning to us, we can see that, while it is good to be a part of the people, we are, as St. Peter says, “resident aliens” in the places we live. This means, while we always seek to serve the best interests of all the people where we live-regardless of their faith-we must always keep a critical distance from our context, knowing that it can often get in the way of seeing our most important loyalty: our loyalty to God.
As we lovingly seek to embody the truth in our new time and context-a time and context hostile to our churches as religious institutions, but not to the spiritual essence and truth we claim to serve-let us remember to self-sacrificially serve our neighbours, whoever they might be, but never forget to whom we owe our ultimate service. We must seek, at all costs, never to be hypnotized again.
Bishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.