Monday, 16 November 2009

Christian Freedoms

Yesterday we prayed for the persecuted church and Songs of Praise featured Open Doors. The figures on the number of Christians who face real, life-threatening persecution are staggering (just browse the Open Doors site). Yet the words of a lady too scared to be identified demonstrated an incredible depth of faith in a personal saviour when asked why she didn't just deny being a Christian

Life is good but nothing compared to the beauty of Jesus

Her story was one of living under the attack against freedom to worship. A human right, by the way. We are incredibly lucky in the UK not to fear oppression and persecution like hers. However, events like this suggest something different:
Many Christians are concerned at the marginalisation of Christianity which is increasingly being experienced in society today. The case of the Christian nurse disciplined for praying with a patient, the school receptionist disciplined for asking her friends to pray for her daughter told off for sharing her faith with another child, the Equality Bill likely to force churches to accept homosexual youth workers, the hotel owners charged with a crime because they discussed their faith and criticised Islam to a Muslim guest who asked about Christianity - the list goes on.
The things listed there are problematic, that I'm not disputing, but they're not couched in the person of Jesus. I don't know all the details, it's just enough of an outrage to make you gasp and shake your heads. And I don't suggest we're immune from threatening behaviour but so are those of other faiths, or lifestyles. Where are the similar concerns about that?

The friction apparent in that list, most of which seem ludicrous rather than threatening, is a consequence of being in the world, but not of it. Gospel Freedom is living life to the full as citizens of heaven. We're called to model salvation, not to create and enforce Christian states, or Christian societies. So there's space for conflict.

Pluralism, the space for people to get on with what they believe and living how they wish (within societally agreed boundaries) is Christian freedom writ large. In fact, we really want to take it further because by default we love.

That's more than tolerating difference. And it isn't about expecting behaviour to sit within our beliefs or else. We do not get to choose rejection over love. But it's that freedom - to choose rejection over love - which people believe encapsulates our faith. That's the sound they hear above the noise.

Perhaps Britain is a Christian nation, it's probably not, but it definitely is home to people who disagree with our whole belief structure; it's home to people who think we're dangerous and deluded; to those who have been hurt by our hypocrisy and home to those bemused by the righteous anger we whip up towards semantics, language and individual lifestyles.

Just google "Christian Institute" to see the opinion of the world. Sadly, the apparent freedoms seen by the outsider aren't about Jesus. And yet, everything we do should be about Him, and about those out there, not us in here.

If freedoms are under such threat why do we try so hard to keep our cocoon intact? To build Christendom-on-sea where we don't have to make allowances for people that don't think like us. When the Church isn't engaged with the world it's revelling in sub-culture. When we revel in sub-culture we get sidelined by the world, it's inevitable. Mind you, if freedom is our passion where's the problem? If we marginalise ourselves, we vacate the moral high ground, we lose relevance as a spiritual reference point and become complicit with the development of the dreaded secularism.

As Christmas approaches and people attempt to avoid offence (Dundee, that would be you) should we not be celebrating that people go out of their way to avoid offence, because of love and respect for others? What happens instead is OUTRAGE and the (deliberate) misconstruing of events to make headlines. Just how insecure are we that we can't cope with the loss of a word?

The more we build sites like, hold holy climate events (sorry St Mike's) that clash with the worldly (Friends of the Earth) and put No-shave-November up against Mo-vember (Edinburgh CU are doing it for Compassion, who are awesome, but still) the more Christian freedom looks like an invitation to an exclusive club, not a relationship that will transform you, your life and your community.

The day we are prevented from living with that freedom is when we can start to identify with our brothers and sisters who face prison, torture, rape and death. That is an affront to freedom, full stop. Surely any distinction of 'Christian' freedoms as something distinct is unhelpful anyway. It wasn't 'cos God loved Christians, or the church, that he sent Jesus; it was 'cos he loved the world.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

So It Begins

Today I went to this shop

Where a man used something like this

To leave me shaved and ready for the start of Movember.