Before I return to the weekly routine of chewing over news stories, it feels appropriate to do the usual thing that happens as December passes into January by casting a reflective eye on the previous year and provide some philosophical ruminations to take forward into the next.
It’s hard to identify trends accurately having only really got into blogging a year or so ago, but it’s certainly a challenge to argue that Christianity had a good year in 2012 from a public point of view. We continued to see it struggling to hold its ground in the law courts and in political spheres. Gay marriage was clearly the biggest talking point and for those who look to see marriage remain defined as a union between one man and one woman, the government’s handling of its own proposals has been a bitter pill to swallow. We’ve also seen Christian belief come off worse in equalities cases with B&B owners unable to choose to only allow married couples to share a bed and Catholic adoption agencies failing in their appeals to place children solely with heterosexual couples. Councils were told that they were not allowed to hold prayers at the start of meetings. This was quickly addressed by the Localism Act, but still some councils lost their nerve and took prayers off the agenda. In the last week Celestina Mba lost her appeal at the High Court to stop her employer forcing her to work on a Sunday, with the judge somehow ruling that Christians have no right to decline working on Sunday because it is not a “core component” of their beliefs. We can only expect to see more of this in the year to come.
If you follow these stories closely as I inevitably do, it’s very easy to believe that this country is becoming more secular at an alarming rate. Secularists and humanists continue to do their best to push religion to the margins of society and when the Church is told by the Prime Minister to ‘get with the programme‘ of following society’s trends it’s easy to feel the knives are out for observance of Christian belief in public. To admit to having the Bible as your source of moral guidance is to ask to be ridiculed and ignored as being out of touch with the modern world.
On his US chat show a few days ago Piers Morgan was talking to Rick Warren, the highly respected and well-known pastor of Saddleback Church. Whilst discussing gay rights, Morgan said, “Both the Bible and the [US] Constitution were well-intentioned but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it… It’s time for an amendment to the Bible.”
Most Christians would describe Morgan’s words as heresy, but I’m sure there are a huge number of people outside the church who would either completely agree with him or say that the best thing to do with the Bible is to consign it to the dustbin of history.
Warren of course didn’t let Piers Morgan get away with this jibe without a robust response. He came back by saying: “Not a chance. What I believe is flawed is human opinion, because it constantly changes. I willingly admit that I base my worldview on the Bible, which I believe is true and my definition of truth is that if it’s new it’s not true. If it was here 1,000 years ago, it will be true 1,000 years from today. Opinion changes, truth doesn’t.”
As a Christian, it’s easy to become disillusioned with the state of the world when we see society turning its back on God and we also have to be careful of paying too much attention to the media who are always after a sensational story. The worst thing to do when it feels as if your back is against the wall is to retreat into a holy huddle behind closed doors, which is actually what secularists are quite keen to see happen. Alternatively watering down your beliefs to keep others happy as Piers Morgan suggests paradoxically makes you less relevant as the truth gets lost in the mixed messages.
Warren is right that truth is eternal. Jesus said:
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19)
Of course there’s no point in trying to get someone who’s not a Christian to take the Bible at face value and accept its teachings. Only God can convict them of this, but that’s not an excuse to keep quiet and do nothing. The challenge is to prove that Christianity and its principles is relevant by demonstrating that it has far more to offer than alternative philosophies and ideologies. That requires a strength of conviction and demonstration of love that only can come from a close relationship with God. Rowan Williams in his final message as Archbishop of Canterbury said this:
“Here at the Robes project [a night shelter in London], over twenty local churches are combining to offer food and shelter to homeless people in London. Religion here isn’t a social problem or an old-fashioned embarrassment, it’s a wellspring of energy and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated. So let’s recognise this steady current of generosity that underlies so much of our life together in this country and indeed worldwide.
It’s all based on one vision – to make our society, our whole world, work for everyone, not just the comfortable and well off. And it’s a vision that sometimes seems to need Olympic levels of patient hard work and dedication. If you have the good fortune to live in a community where things seem to be working well the chances are that if you slip backstage you’ll find an army of cheerful people making the wheels go round – and don’t forget just what a huge percentage of them come from the churches and other faith groups.”
When you dig beneath the surface and see the way Christianity permeates our nation, how Christians make it a better place at every level, how God is on the move behind the scenes, the fear of the Christian faith being downtrodden and dying just falls away.
There are plenty of challenges for the Church in this country that are all too real and the levels of religious illiteracy in the corridors of power will continue to pit Christians against the state at times, but when you see the bigger picture through God’s eyes, there comes with it a confidence that no problem or issue is insurmountable. Faith for those who have none is a bizarre nonsense, but for those who live by it, it is an unending source of hope.
Whatever happens over the next twelve months, 2013 will just be another year. We’ll get angry and frustrated. There will be moments of tears and rejoicing. Christianity might get a kicking at times, but the Church has coped with whatever has been thrown at it in the past two thousand years and has instead exchanged curses for blessings. I don’t see why this year should be any different. I’m not worried and I certainly won’t be ashamed to stick to my beliefs irrespective of what comes along.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)