Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On Liberty And Persecution

In the news today, a judge has ruled against the right of a Christian couple to refuse a double room in their hotel to a gay couple.  This is seen by some Christians as further evidence – if evidence was needed – that Christians are increasingly being persecuted for their faith in the UK at this time.

It is worth noting that Christian views on human sexuality are heterogeneous – there is no one universally acceptable position, and plenty of experimenting – and, moreover, would appear to be changing (the Church of England holds an orthodox view of human sexuality, but also recognises that the Church has the authority to change its mind on the interpretation of Scripture), albeit much more slowly than British society at large (which, while it may be painful for individuals, is in my view a good thing: all change, even positive change, has unforeseen consequences for good and evil, and the Church serves society well by resisting the urgent, addictive pull of the instant decision in our digital age).

It is also worth noting that there is no homogeneous gay position on Christianity: some gays believe that Christian belief is inherently incompatible with being gay; some gays believe that there is no incompatibility (and cannot be) between self-identifying as gay and as Christian; with a complex range of views between.

However, for the sake of discovering a deeper principle, let us for the moment go with the proposition that a gay lifestyle is a moral, albeit not legal, offence.  That would make a gay couple unrighteous, perhaps even wilfully evil.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus observes that our Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  He is impartial in his love.  And on the basis of this observation, Jesus goes on to reflect that if we are only prepared to bless those who are like us, then we do not reflect God’s nature, but in effect we worship a false understanding of God – and as we are shaped into the likeness of the thing we worship, we are misshaped.

The liberty of the Christian is not to bless only those whose lives we approve of, but freedom to bless anyone and everyone, including – perhaps, especially – those we see as ‘them’ rather than ‘us.’  Moreover, the liberty of the Christian is the freedom to lay down our own lives for the sake of another – to surrender, rather than demand, our rights, in order to demonstrate sacrificial love.  It is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions that Christians are seen by our neighbours for what we disapprove of, rather than for extravagant love of our neighbour, whatever our differences.

Finally, for the sake of discovering a deeper principle, let us also for the moment go with the proposition that Christians in the UK are increasingly being persecuted for their faith at this time.  It is possible that we face persecution because of our faithfulness; it is also possible that we face persecution not because of our faithfulness but because of our misplaced beliefs, or because of our own downright error.  Whatever the reason, we face no persecution that has not at the very least been permitted by our Father.  And persecution causes us to return to him: not to demand that the world around us changes, but to ask, “What needs to change in us, in order for us to be more fully formed into your likeness?”

I am far from convinced that Christians are being systematically, covertly but with increasing boldness, persecuted for their faith in the UK.  I am somewhat more convinced that such persecution is what we need.

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