by Nathan Brown
Many people are rightly afraid of the damage and potential damage caused by radicalism and radicalization. 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 radicalized religion or radicalized 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 Rev. 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 our choices 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.”
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>).
While buying a couple 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 that he had expected that the most difficult part of the business to be sourcing ethically manufactured clothing and materials. But this has proved easier than he feared. It seems that ethical production is not so hard to do, if we make it a priority.
But he did not expect that these products would be so hard to sell. “Everyone has heard or read about the issues of child, sweatshop, and even slave labor in the fashion and sports industries,” he said. “But few actually act on these issues.” 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 (available online: <www.etiko.com.au>), what about the bigger things in our lives and in our world? The opposite of the radicalism and radicalization 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.”
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” (Matt. 20:28, NLT). That’s our radical model.
The Etiko T-shirt I bought shouts, “Rage against something.” So many things in our world 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.”
Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia, and a Manifest co-convenor.