did God place us in the suburbs?

November 29, 2010

I guess the missional reawakening being experienced at the moment can be described as something of the following:

Mission isn’t simply going to faraway countries with nice beaches or forests and preaching the salvation of souls to naked natives (and teaching them not to be naked in the process), mission is asking “what is God up to”, and joining this in my life day to day, and for those Christologically inclined something about the Kingdom of God need to be added.

I guess this is not a bad definition, and Ive preached it myself. Telling people that “life” is mission. It’s about the way I approach my job (no, not about smiling to the secretary, but hopefully about considering whether the work I’m doing is oppressing others, or freeing them), my relationships, you name it. And there is something beautiful about this, if the evangelical in my comes out I’ll say something biblical about this. Live your whole life in the face of God, and participate in the work of the triune God every day. Really beautiful.

Almost too beautiful. But I’ll go with this kind of talk for the moment, obviously assuming that you’ve used you’re “God-given rational mind” and all the tools of analyzing the context and trying to find out what would be “good”, since I confess that God is the source of all that is good.

In this same vein, you find this notion that “God has placed our congregation in this place, and we are called to serve God here”. Again, really beautiful talk. I love it. With one problem: God didn’t put you there.

OK, listen me out before you report the blasphemy.

Did God create the townships? The suburbs? The racially segregated areas in South Africa?

Did God put all the rich people into one security village, and did God appoint those in power who make sure that the beggars don’t bother the taxpayers?

No matter how you interpret “that which we call God”, Christian theology would say “no” to the above questions. This world is broken.

Although I applaud this broader understanding of mission, there is a warning that needs to be heard: God didn’t place you in the suburbs*, in most cases Apartheid did. Mission then becomes the questioning of the systems which give us this nice privileged suburban life, while making sure few enough people have access to it, so that we don’t spread the little capital available too thin. Sometimes mission will imply that we ask whether we should even be in this context.

We might even want to remind ourselves of the old-school missionaries. Those who didn’t accept the context in which God had them to be born, but who felt the call to a different context. Please, let us not imitate them too closely, that the mission of the church has committed it’s own evils is a well-known fact by now. But they might be a nice corrective to those who found that God called them to the suburbs, and understanding mission as keeping this status quo in place.

A third way might be in order: Neither the going to faraway countries with nice heathens and learning them western manners, nor the simple acceptance of the suburb where “God has placed me”. Our task might be to critically ask whether this context should exist, and challenge the structure which create oppressive contexts, not simply fix small issues we encounter within some particular context.

* I’m not on a suburb-bashing mission (no pun intended), but I do believe that serious questions need to be asked about the development of suburbs. Furthermore, I use this example because this is my own context (I live in the suburbs, attend church in the suburbs, preach in the suburbs).

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One Response to “did God place us in the suburbs?”


  1. Rightly said. It would be dead wrong to “teach” about sin in a radically segregated suburb without addressing the structural sin that created that suburb and is still enforcing segregation.


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