As disciples of Jesus, rage against something: our world needs more loving radicals and more positive radicalism
Many people are rightly afraid of the damage and potential damage caused by radicalism and radicalisation. These are the tragic headlines that have caught our attention over recent years. And we are justifiably appalled by violence and terror in the name of radicalised religion or radicalised politics or just straight-up hatred and greed.
But for most of us, our greatest danger is not that we are too radical. Rather, we too easily become apathetic, compassion-fatigued and spiritually “lukewarm”—to use the Bible’s description of it (see Revelation 3:16). Most often, the problem is not that we don’t know what to do, but whether we take the sometimes-radical step of actually doing it, even if only at a small cost or inconvenience to ourselves.
It’s a danger that manifests itself in all aspects of our lives but perhaps it can be most easily observed in the choices we make in how we invest our time, resources and energy, how we respond to the needs of others and how we engage with issues of injustice in our world. The authors of Kingdom Ethics make this observation: “Those who do not routinely suffer injustice frequently get lulled into a lack of concern for others who do suffer it. At the heart of Christian discipleship is overcoming that privileged lull.”1
I recently visited the office of Etiko, a small Melbourne-based clothing and sports ball company and Australia’s first non-food brand to gain Fair Trade certification. Etiko and related brands Jinta Sport and Pants to Poverty were three of only four Australian brands rated A+ out of the 219 brands surveyed for the Ethical Fashion Guide 2015 (see www.behindthebarcode.org.au for the 2017 guide).
The opposite of the radicalism and radicalisation that has been capturing headlines is not apathy but positive radicalism, faithfully choosing love and creatively seeking the good of others.Nathan Brown, Book Editor, Signs PublishingWhile buying a couple of T-shirts and a pair of shoes, I asked Etiko’s founder and director Nick Savaidis about the 10-year history of the company. One comment caught my attention. He told me he had expected the most difficult part of the business would be sourcing ethically manufactured clothing and materials, but this has proved easier than he feared. It seems ethical production and find is not so hard to do, if we make it a priority.
But he did not expect these products would be so hard to sell. “Everyone has heard or read about the issues of child, sweatshop and even slave labour in the fashion and sports industries, but few actually act on these issues,” he commented. He mentioned his particular frustration with many church groups and Christian schools (think, school uniforms and sporting equipment) whose purchasing choices do not seem to reflect their moral beliefs.
It’s the privileged lull: we know our purchasing choices affect people, often in developing countries; we know why we should care; we know what we ought to do; but we don’t do it, especially if it might take time for us to find or cost a little more. It isn’t that Fair Trade sneakers make us somehow holier than anyone else, but that this is a choice, an investment, even a vote for a different kind of world that is a little more fair, just and right.
And if that’s what we often fail to do when choosing something as simple as a T-shirt or a pair of shoes (even available online: www.etiko.com.au), what about the bigger things in our lives and in our world? The opposite of the radicalism and radicalisation that has been capturing headlines is not apathy but positive radicalism, faithfully choosing love and creatively seeking the good of others. We know what, we know why, we can work out how—but often we don’t.
By definition, such radicalism will cost us. Attention, money, time, energy, inconvenience, discomfort, perhaps danger and more. And even this does not guarantee success, effectiveness or progress. As Yoder argues in The Politics of Jesus, “the kind of faithfulness that is willing to accept evident defeat rather than complicity with evil is, by virtue of its conformity with what happens to God when He works among us, aligned with the ultimate triumph of the Lamb.”2 Jesus risked Himself to serve and save: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, NLT). That’s our radical model.
The Etiko T-shirt I bought shouts, “Rage against something.” There are so many things in our world that should grab our attention and provoke our angry, radical, creative and compassionate response. As a disciple of Jesus, choose one—and do something about it. Our world needs more loving radicals and more positive radicalism. Let’s reclaim “radical.”
1. Glen H Stassen and David P Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, page 365.
2. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, page 238.