Defenders of the Faith?

Have you ever stopped to think about what offends you? I’m not talking about the little irritations of life that we grumble about over coffee after the church service.

I mean the big issues that cause us to speak out and lead us to take direct action.

From a reading of the Gospels we get a good idea of what Jesus was offended by. Hypocrisy, inequality, division, prejudice, unbelief and the worship of money are high on the list. Do these same things motivate us to speak out?

Today we see a world of protest. From Lebanon to Chile, the UK to Ecuador, Hong Kong to Catalonia. People are taking to the streets in their millions, sometimes peacefully, occasionally with violence.

The driving forces behind these campaigns range from environmental destruction and the desire for political freedom to economic and social inequality. Doubtless there are Christians among the crowds, but there appears to be little evidence of practical Christian identification with, or in opposition to, the underlying issues.

No doubt there is a huge amount of prayer going on, both in those countries and around the world. Christian giving, to agencies working to combat poverty and inequality, also remains high. Yet how willing are we to challenge and change the structures in our society and around the world that promote - or at least fail to fight - division, disunity and prejudice.

The current Archbishops of Canterbury and York are vocal on issues of justice and the environment.  The Pope has also written powerful encyclicals on these subjects. Yet both the Church of England and The Vatican continue to be implicit in a system that disenfranchises so many. Changes are taking place, but at a glacial pace and often with internal opposition.

As an institution, the Church by its nature tends to be very conservative in its outlook. Cautious, slow or even unwilling to move with the times - and the times are moving fast.

Some would argue that it isn’t the church’s role to follow society’s lead. I would agree - the Church should be taking the lead! However, when our culture is embracing acceptance, justice, care for creation and concern for the defenceless we should be quick to respond; doing so from a place of compassion, grace and love. Not from mistrust, fear or suspicion.

History reveals that, as Christians, we have often been quick to take a stand on situations that threaten our own sense of security and comfort, but we are far slower to respond to threats against the well-being of others who do not subscribe to our Christian world view.

For example, Sunday trading laws, the celebration of Halloween, the teaching of sex education in schools and the persecution of Christians have been remonstrated much more vehemently than environmental damage, economic inequality, discrimination towards minority groups or the plight of Muslim refugees.

As followers of the Christ, it is time that we started to feel as strongly about the treatment of others as we do about our own values and rights. The Psalmist says, “You’re here to defend the defenceless, to make sure the underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them.” Psalm 82.3-4 (The Message). It does not say anywhere in the Bible:

“You are here to defend God, to make sure Christianity gets a fair break; your job is to stand up for the Church, and prosecute all those who mock it.”

God doesn’t need us to fight his battles, or our own. What he does require is that we fight on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves. That we defend the weak and the voiceless, the oppressed and the minorities – regardless of whether we agree with their beliefs or lifestyle. Are we offended on their behalf?

Isaiah the prophet commands God’s people to, “Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenceless.” Isaiah 1.17 (The Message)

It is a prophecy that speaks to each of us who seek to follow Jesus in our time. So, too, do the words of another Old Testament prophet, Micah: “Don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 (The Message)

We would do well to listen and to heed, and to choose our battles with less judgementalism and more grace.


Adam Pope

-- Adam Pope works for the Mission Aviation Fellowship but writes in a personal capacity.

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published this page in Articles 2019-12-02 11:30:24 +0000