Connecting with Culture
It’s been said that culture is ‘what we make of the world’, but what does that look like as Christians? How can we begin conversations about what’s goin...
Hadis Najafi, a 22-year-old Iranian, joined other women and girls to brave an incredibly repressive political regime to ask for freedom and the right to live in safety, rather than fear.
She messaged her friends, ‘I hope in a few years when I look back, I will be happy that everything has changed for the better.’
She was shot dead by security forces an hour later.
The protests are principally about the treatment of women, though disproportionate numbers of casualties also come from ethnic minorities.
Sadly, this story is not particularly new or unique. Tyrannical regimes have long sought to shore up their power through othering specific groups; as time goes on, this only increases in order to maintain the privileges and power of the few.
In Scripture, oppressive power is a recurring characteristic of human sin, found among the people of God and the nations around them. Three features the Bible highlights consistently also feature in the turmoil in Iran.
First, oppressed people are underestimated, such that oppressors fail to recognise their potential. In the stories of Judges, Ehud circumvents the Moabite king’s guards who never suspect that the Hebrews could have the wherewithal to challenge them (3:16–23), and Sisera seeks to hide in a woman’s tent, never imagining a foreign woman could be his downfall (4:21). If women in Iran are considered lesser, with less access to education, work, and experience, it’s easy to underestimate the force they represent.
Second, leaders use escalating amounts of disproportionate force, highlighting the discrepancy between their immense power and the people’s destitution, as with Pharaoh’s oppression of Israel, and Iranian police killing teenage girls.
And finally, oppressive leaders blame others, often the oppressed themselves, as with Pharaoh, and Iran’s tendency to blame ‘foreign’ influences.
The sweep of Scripture shows that no nation or group of people is immune from the risks of tyrannical power. And because misuse of power is endemic in humanity, it is at the heart of how God acts in Christ: through a complete undermining of human power structures, and the demonstration of a different way to be – vulnerable, self-giving, taking on himself the consequences of humanly distorted power and authority.
Hope doesn’t lie in overpowering the oppressor, but in a different way of holding power altogether. This is a call, not just for political leaders but for all of us, to check the kind of relationships we enable and condone in our homes, workplaces, and communities.
Secretary for Theology and Theological Adviser to the House of Bishops