Tag Archives: church and state

‘Honour the emperor’

It is easy for me to write this as a middle class, white Brit for whom oppression is not something I’ve ever directly had to put up with. My response is therefore more theoretical than what faces people who are already reporting the sorts of post-Brexit hate we had here. I hope I would always seek solidarity, not safety.

Prayer

We spent last night at Central London Vineyard in solid prayer, bothering God about the state of the world.
 
It was challenging. Challenging to reflect on our own divided country as well as the one across the Atlantic. Challenging to think that most of the world’s desperate people don’t care who’s in the White House or what the EU looks like. And very challenging to hear first hand testimony of recent events in Calais and the treatment of those unaccompanied children who had found some small refuge in the Jungle.
 
And in all of that it was challenging to respond to the words of Jesus:
‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’
So much of what I’ve found difficult about 2016’s politics has come from the rejection and fear of ‘the other’. And yet I’ve probably responded to people with whom I have a fundamental difference of position by reflecting a similar level of antipathy (or worse) about them as people, as well as their ideology.

Challenge

On Tuesday evening our Croydon Vineyard small group were picking over the second half of 1 Peter 2. It talks about submitting to authority, even (and especially) if it oppresses you. It even includes the three words ‘honour the emperor’.
 
Reading that the other day wasn’t easy; returning to it last night after Donald Trumps’s victory was even harder. But there was something very powerful (and even hope filled) in wrestling with what it means for God to desire relationship with Donald the man, just as much as he does with me, and you.
 
When you get down to it, the ground is flat at the foot of the cross – there is no hierarchy of sin, no category of holier, no singling out as worst. Of course it offends us to think that there’s no difference between me and him but the message at the heart of what I believe is to love the person I’d not even consider worth acknowledgement, and to love them sacrificially.
 
Last night someone used a turn of phrase that stuck with me: ‘Love never changes. Love always wins. Love looks the same today as it did yesterday, and will do tomorrow’.
 
As individuals that’s an important attitude of the heart and it’s important that we live it out in our relationships with others. But in the midst of everything it’s pretty overwhelming to think about how broken the world is, how frightening particular politics are, and how little we can do by ourselves.
 
Which is why God invites us to be part of The Church so that with him, and each other, we can be a movement seeking God’s kingdom on earth – not to build a theocracy but to be united in pursuing justice and mercy with a loving humility that’s backed by our trust in God as Sovereign.

Response 

None of us know what the next few years will bring. There is plenty to fear. But fear is the currency of oppression. I’m choosing hope over fear, light over darkness, love over hate, action over apathy. But right now, I’m going back to the source and looking to God for this to be recognisable  for everyone, everywhere:
 
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

My worlds collide

When I first wrote this it was relevant but I got overtaken by other events. Still, whilst it’s old news there’s no point it staying sat in my drafts.

There is no single theme for my blog. Most of the time there’s very little overlap so maybe I should be more focused and write in different places for different content. Irrespective of that, today is a bit different.

In the aftermath of this story I’ve read a lot and heard a lot of bluster in various media. As I’m a Christian who works in local government and have family connections to church in Bideford this particular story couldn’t be more relevant. Continue reading My worlds collide

>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:

“GOSPEL FREEDOM UNDER ATTACK”
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 christianchirp.com, 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.