by Anthony Reddie.
This Spectrum paper is a reflection, written by Professor Anthony Reddie, on a lecture he gave at the Spectrum conference in May 2022.
In Anthony’s second session, participants engaged in a Bible study entitled ‘Theological Reflection’. Once again, he started with some reflections based on personal experience. The theme was one of how societies and faith communities deal with the challenge of engaging with issues of sameness or homogeneity and difference, or questions of pluralism, i.e. do people need to be the same or have some unified perspectives in order for them to live together and be one?
When is it right that we affirm difference or when is better that we ignore our differences and rather affirm the things that make us more or less or very similar?
After an initial introduction participants were split into groups and asked to look at Acts 2: vv. 1-11. They were encouraged to reflect on how the dynamics of sameness and difference were played out in the biblical text. After the groups had reflected on the text, on coming back together, they shared their differing perspectives with each other. Then Anthony shared his reflections on the text and how it offers an important mirror to the continued challenges of sameness and difference in contemporary society, where the dangers of nationalism and populism have been exemplified.
The key aspect of Anthony’s reflections was the challenge as to what difference did religious faith make in terms of how we see those who are marked as ‘the other’. How does faith in Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, impact on our social values? This is especially the case when issues of empire and whiteness are deeply embedded in how we see people, especially those of ethnic parentage or who themselves were born beyond the shores of Britain.
Anthony said, ‘In using this text, I would say that my lifelong commitment to social justice, and liberation from oppression for all people, has emanated from the inspiration gained from this text. I continue to believe that the narrative of the first Pentecost has much to teach us as we struggle with the continued challenge of embracing and affirming difference in our contemporary life in 21st century Britain. For a Black Liberation theologian, much of whose work has been critiquing and challenging White norms and assumptions of superiority, I love the way in which Pentecost demolishes any notion of cultural superiority or Government inspired attacks on multiculturalism in favour of the mantra of sameness and integration’.
Pentecost has a special resonance for our increasingly plural and complex world, because any materialist reading of this text affirms notions of difference and particularity. If physical differences are themselves part of the problem for our post modern, differentiated world, then what are we to make of a text in which difference is visibly celebrated?
In the Pentecost narrative, we hear of people speaking in their mother tongue. There is no presumption of pre-eminence in terms of language, culture or expression. The ability to have visions and dream dreams are the preserve of all human kind, irrespective of class, ethnicity or culture. The God of all, in Christ, has called all humanity into an unconditional relationship with the Divine, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
For Methodists, the inclusivity of Pentecost is a reminder that our founder John Wesley was committed to a gospel that spoke to and was available for all people, irrespective of rank or social status. The ‘Four Alls’ of Methodism is a radical restatement of the availability of grace for all peoples and that this prevenient spark calls us into relationship with God and most crucially, with one another.
Inspiration for social justice emerges from the God who challenges us to seek the good of our neighbour and encourages us to find human fulfilment in radical hospitality, in community with others and communion with God, revealed in Jesus.
Liberation Theology often speaks of ‘Base Communities’ and the term is often associated with Marxism or Communism, but one can argue that the roots of this form of simple, faithful living and the following of Jesus’ message can be found in Acts chapter 2.
This text counters all our bourgeois notions of Christian faith as an expression of self-centred, middle class, consumer style individualism. The transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit does not lead to self centred notions of individual blessing and notions of ‘cheap grace’ as we have been admonished by the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Rather, living in the spirit leads to a renewed commitment to live for and to serve others in the name of Christ.
1. Does Acts chapter 2 really have a socio/political dimension?
2. Where is the Holy Spirit at work ‘on the streets’ these days?
3. How may the Church, your church, speak the language of the people today?
We are pleased to continue our partnership with Spectrum, a community of Christians of all denominations which encourages groups and individuals to explore the Christian faith in depth. This year the study papers are from talks by Prof Anthony Reddie and Rev’d Simon Sutcliffe on the theme ‘Being the Salt of the Earth (A look at some peace and justice issues)’. This is the third of six coming through the year.