Tony Franklin-Ross shares some thoughts from the recent NZ Common Dreams Conference in Napier – first printed in Methodist Touchstone
Faith as resistance to ego, orthodoxy and the political status quo was the theme of a Progressive Spirituality NZ conference that was held in Napier on 6-8 May. The gathering drew 122 people from around New Zealand, and they heard a number of speakers address the topic.
The keynote speaker was US author Rev Dr Robin Meyers, who is known for his books The Underground Church, Saving Jesus from the Church, and Spiritual Defiance. Robin criticises the church for neglecting the initial concept of Jesus’ Way, in favour of beliefs and dogma that were created later.
He suggests the Beatitudes is closer to the creed of the early followers of the Jesus Way, along with the affirmations ‘Jesus is Lord’ and ‘Caesar is not’. Christianity was initially not a belief system but a peculiar way of being in the world.
Robin also criticised contemporary empires that protect the majority and the status quo in a broken world. Rather than be content to benefit from such structures, the Church should meet in joyful defiance to the political and economic prophets of power, he says.
Jim McAloon provided examples of faith-based resistance in Aotearoa. These include the Peace Squadron, the anti-Apartheid movement, and the Hikoi of Hope, as well as earlier reforms against sweated labour, peace movements, and the development of the welfare state as ‘applied Christianity’.
Playwright and actor Jo Randerson explored the place of art. Is art just nice decoration, the icing on the cake of society, or can it be used to challenge, question and disrupt the status quo? Jo says the arts can provide different voices and explore different possibilities.
Be wary of the seeds sewn into the fabric of the Bible that can be used to suppress, exploit and dominate. This was the message Robert Myles brought to the conference. Robert says the Bible is used to support reaction and revolution.
How can the Bible be used to counter current politics and economic inequality, rather than romanticise Jesus’ poverty as a way of life?
While the conference stirred cerebral activity, counter-point moments were provided through pop-up engagement with the works of Shakespeare and workshops on drama, dance, art, walking and meditation. The conference dinner was embellished with spiritual songs, themselves voices of resistance and hope, performed by the Napier Community Gospel Choir.
It is hard to do justice to two days of stimulating presentations and conversation. Challenges were laid and questions asked:
- How do prophetic voices of resistance get translated into action?
- Does the church need to do a rummage sale of the things in its attics of orthodoxy?
- Jesus’ people were once anti-imperial, a thorn in the side of the establishment.