In Acts we find a story of The Jewish diaspora, in which Jews, allowed to legally hold to their faith, were nonetheless subject to the vagaries of Empire. The Jews were scattered through the Mediterranean world, particularly the eastern end, and like all diaspora peoples, they gathered together for mutual support and protection. They formed insular communities so that their religious and cultural lives could be built up. Whilst there was trade (and other) engagements with the wider, imperial community, this was limited. Integration was not part of their agenda.
Many of these characteristics can be seen in diaspora communities in the U.K. today. There are, for example, not simply African churches, but churches that cater for specific national or tribal/language groups. In recent years, however, there has begun to emerge an openness among many such churches to engage with the wider Christian community – a development that is to be applauded, but – from the white indigenous church, with a level of repentance for our failure to be welcoming to our sisters and brothers from the Majority World. We have failed to offer the gift of hospitality to those who came to these shores to contribute to British society. We have maintained an approach of empire towards the diaspora peoples, insisting that they accommodate to us, that they become like us. There is an irony in this, of course, for the British refused – and still refuse even now – to accommodate to others even in their own lands. We stick together as ‘expats’ (we do not like to be called ‘migrants’), forming our own little enclaves.
But in Acts we see a different narrative unfolding. We find that the young and growing movement of ‘The Way’ broke out of cultural and religious borders. There are several important occasions when we can see this happen – and we can, with the eyes of vision and imagination, glimpse the same dynamic of God’s Spirit repeating His habitual behaviour of creating unity across boundaries. The ‘red lines’ of the Kingdom of God have nothing to do with ethnicity or cultural norms: rather, such red lines as exist within the Kingdom are based on the nature of God – holiness, integrity, purity, honour and love. The story of Acts reflects the story of Hosea, of ‘not my people’ becoming ‘my people,’ of the creation of a new community which was not to be based on Empire, nor on diaspora, but on Christ. This is the inclusion that the Christian community must seek and pursue – not on popular and emotive issues, but on loving God, loving neighbour and loving self. This is the witness we must make and, if we do so, we will never be the same again.
The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.