During this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May spoke about the fear that some Christians may have articulating their faith in the workplace or, come to that, any public space. Indeed, the Daily Telegraph reported this week that, “Mrs May’s intervention came after David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, warned that over-anxious employers are failing to celebrate Christmas for fear of offending other staff.” This is not the first time in history that the Christian faith has been considered offensive. The followers of Christ have been vilified, marginalised and persecuted since the birth of Jesus. Herod, Pilate, the Sanhedrin, Roman emperors all opposed those attracted to the historical Jesus. Today, it seems, there is no let-up in the opposition of those who are drawn to live the Christ life.
Inevitably, the debate over Christian ‘persecution’ within our liberal democracy has become polarised. Some Christians feel that they are being attacked for expressing their faith in public, for expressing their desire to convert, to bring happiness and, ultimately, salvation to friends and strangers. They have been accused of proselytising, imposing their religious views inappropriately. The media debate, sparked in the House of Commons by Theresa May, lacks subtlety, its black and white nature is in danger of degenerating into a playground scuffle. “If you want to play with your imaginary friend, do it in your own home!” So cries the playground bully who is unable to articulate why the Christian gospel is so offensive.
The gospel is offensive. Jesus’ birth in dirt and poverty. The physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual abuse he suffered. His unjust, ugly and tyrannical death. His earliest supporters were accused of being barbarians, consuming blood sacrifices. There is nothing particularly ‘nice’ or urbane about the Christ life. But over 2000 years, the Church has managed to integrate the gritty, passionate nature of Christ’s call within dramatically changing political and social contexts. The Christian faith has lived through the rise and fall of various empires and ideologies. The dominant ideology of today seems to be secularism, whereby any faith – not just Christianity, is rebuked and condemned.
Sorry, I’m a Christian… but I am not a proselytiser. I do not believe that I have a calling to impose my faith and belief on another. I prefer to try to live the Christ life in all of my limitations and puzzlement, needing a great deal of care and wisdom to enable me in this task. My support structure is called the Holy Church of God. My impassioned hope is that others will desire to join me on my pilgrimage, a sacrificial journey which gives meaning, hope and purpose to the gift of life. I will not force people to walk with me, they will soon falter if they make a pilgrimage under duress. At a corporate level, the person of Jesus is alight and alive in all who consent to walk the way of the cross, in public spaces and in private places, in work and in leisure. Whatever the season, whatever the hour, the light of Christ cannot be dimmed. This is what Christians can offer a fearful world – a fragile, flickering but eternal light.
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