September 4, 2020

A funny thing happened to Adele on the way to the Notting Hill Carnival

So Adele decided to put her hair in Bantu knots, and wear a Jamaican flag bikini for the annual Notting Hill Carnival in London. And sent Twitter into meltdown.

Not because she’s skinny now. Not because she’s put on weight now. No, those things are so pre-COVID-19 outrages over Adele.

This time it was for her cultural appropriation of the flags and the knots. I guess time was when a picture of a fairly scantily clad young woman in public would have sent the public into meltdown, but now it’s more about the colour of the bikini, not the quantity – or lack thereof – of the material used.

Anyway, cue the usual suspects, and suddenly Adele is being cancelled. Or that was the hope. Because, as it turns out, the push against her outrageous culturally insensitive move was from the US.

It was primarily US Twitter feeds that went for the easily-sighted Adele jugular. They then waited for the rest of the world to line up, especially Adele’s home country. And for once it didn’t, or at least not at a level our US Twitter Overlords would have. For once there was pushback against the push. For once there was a sense of “Hey, leave our girl alone!”

Stars and influencers in the UK decided that they “weren’t avin’ it” from the neighbours across the pond and lined up to back the singer.

Which seems strange. And different. And a breath of fresh air. A light at the end of the cultural war tunnel perhaps?

How so? Well for all of the outrage by progressives around the world over the cultural hegemony of the United States, it seems that for once the cultural hegemony of the United States had gone a bridge too far.

The cancel culture was birthed in the highly zealous, highly religious – whether that is actual religion or secular religion, doesn’t matter – United States of America. And the rest of the West has lapped it up.

What a great irony. One of the main criticisms from the Left is that the USA dictates all of the narratives (meaning the narratives that progressives usually can’t abide). But suddenly, for a brief moment, the Left outside the US woke up to the vast container-loads of wokeness being dumped on its shores by the US social and political framework.

This year’s protests in the US are a good example. Every other Western nation decided it had to protest too. For a while. There were many similarities to the US protests, including the toppling of statues in the UK, though that tidal wave had been reduced to a ripple by the time it cross seven oceans to Oz.

And now? The US protests are continuing day and night, and cities are burning to the ground. And us? How are we showing our solidarity? We’re not. If my Facebook feed is telling me anything, it’s that the more progressive you are politically, the more keen you are for people to stay inside their house for interminably long periods of time. Keep the borders locked! We decide who comes into this country and how! Oh the irony!

But a good irony in this instance. Because it’s shown that we’re not the USA. So we should stop reacting a day late and a dollar short to everything that happens there. Don’t decry US cultural hegemony then march to the beat of its drum – whether that’s Left or Right.

Perhaps it’s time we left the toxic parts of American culture to burn itself out and just seal ourselves off from it. Call it what it is – a hyper-religious movement, replete with all of the language, punishments, saints and sinners, of any other hyper-religious movement. America does religion hard. Whether that’s sacred or secular religion. That’s why it’s probably headed for another civil war of some kind.

The rest of us? Not so much. We don’t need to follow the tune that the US is piping.

Which is also a lesson for us in the church. We need to stop demonising the church in our nation, or indeed eulogising it, on the basis of what is happening in the United States. And we need to stop looking to the models of church in the United States as our way forward in our secular setting.

Facebook posts that breathlessly announce “Majority of evangelicals believe it’s okay to sleep together before marriage“, or “Many Christians do not believe that Jesus was God.” are inevitably American. And that makes them meaningless when it comes to what evangelicals or Christians in general, for that matter, believe in Australia, the UK or Canada.

And when it comes to Donald Trump (dare we mention his name?) I see Facebook post after Twitter comment that conflates evangelical political concerns in the US with those in Australia.

Let’s face it, there’s pretty much no such thing as a self-identifying evangelical in Australia who doesn’t go to church, doesn’t hold to orthodox creeds, and who doesn’t have an orthodox understanding of sexual ethics (whether practiced or not). And you’d be surprised at just how “social-justicey” evangelicals are in Australia. Not that they necessarily tweet about it.

All of this would have been good to know back in the 90s, when seeker-sensitive mega-church leader after seeker-sensitive mega-church leader from the US was invited here to ostensibly address a problem we didn’t have. And we lapped it up.

Year after year at these conferences in Australia, speakers such as Bill Hybels addressed Australians pastors about how to solve the American problem of reconnecting with the non-church going self-identifying evangelicals in the culture.

Of which in Australia there are none. Which is why it didn’t work. Which is why it frustrated so many pastors, and caused such angst when the reconnection techniques failed.

Although that didn’t stop a whole bunch of churches junking anything remotely like a thick theological framework that would have equipped their people for life in the hard secular age, for the sake of solving a problem we didn’t have in the first place.

We’re not the USA. We don’t have their problems. Mostly. And those problems we do have that are similar are not on the same scale as they have them. We have our own problems, our own concerns. And we have our own solutions.

So Adele, wear those bantu buns, flaunt that Jamaican flag, and sing out proud in the words of your hit song Hello:

There’s such a difference between us
And a million miles

Long may it remain that way.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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