In my e-postbox this morning was an image with the words “Five Christian cases you need to know about this autumn” and a link to an article by Andrea Minichiello Williams, Chief Executive, Christian Concern and Christian Legal Centre, with the title: “The personal cost of Christian freedoms”. Andrea goes on to talk about each of the five cases and how her organisation is supporting the very people who are about to lose their freedoms, for each case in one way or another concerns Christians doing something that upsets the status quo and/or somehow falling foul of the law which often shows scant sympathy to those following their consciences. The same and similar stories have been discussed in some of my previous blogs and I leave it to readers to check out the details.
As is my want, when it comes to significant and in my view important items of news, I posted the image and link on my Facebook page. I have found in the past that when it comes to these types of stories that the reaction is often disappointing, even by Christians who I would like to think ought to know better. While it is wrong to ascribe weight when comparing with many other issues of concern by Christians including, in my own practice, issues around homelessness and sanctuary seekers, it seems that these sort of issues are of a lot more interest than a few Christians being given a hard time because they choose to follow their conscience.
This is not a problem confined to the UK. In the West, we find ideas of tolerance and equal rights, many of which are valid and important, sometimes being found to be in conflict with and trumping religious values. Therein lies a problem, at least as far as a Christian minority is concerned, but ultimately is something that affects us all. In the UK, as well as the USA, we are continually coming across stories of Christians of having to choose whether to obey their conscience (and God) or to obey the law (or the pressures imposed by the culture trying to impose its own ideology) and suffering in some way if they don’t. Their suffering may not be in the same league as those reported in many countries in the world, where Christians are all too often killed for practicing their faith, but given the instances of loss of livelihood, freedom and position, persecution is still significant among UK/USA Christians. To the shame of western governments, there is less tendency now than what used to be the case when using such well documented incidents as bargaining chips for demanding help to these and other victims of oppression, in their dealings with governments that act in this way.
I was interested in the response of one of my Facebook friends, himself a Christian, to my earlier posting: “I know it is a fine line we tread but this does affect people giving genuine human love and support when people most need it, based simply the motivation and not the act itself. My biggest concern with this isn’t Christianity (and other faiths) being targeted but rather that the right to have personal conscience is being eroded. Without this, we risk sleepwalking into a world akin to 1930s Germany.” I share my friend’s concerns and am alarmed that we are increasingly seeing Christian values being replaced by sinister ones that happen to undermine Christianity and promote a new false religion.
When it comes to politics, I have gone on record of not siding with a particular party yet supporting any party that does the right thing and criticizing any part that doesn’t. That is a privilege and a responsibility of living in the democracy. Unsurprisingly, given democratic government was not known in Bible days, the Bible sheds limited light on matters like how to vote and partly explains why good Christian people can be at many different points in the political spectrum. But we are told to: “Pray for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity” 2Timothy 2:2. This includes being able to practice our religion and fully engage in the market place of ideas.
I can sort of understand why my non-Christian friends don’t quite go along with me attaching so much importance to this conscience issue, feeling that we should simply obey the law, e.g. when it comes to issues like anti-discrimination, while being supportive on some of my social justice stands and the work I do in matters like helping the homeless and sanctuary seekers. I am a little less sympathetic when Christians show the same indifference, in the light on the above text and the experience of history. But for me the issue is clear: I do what I do because it is in keeping with the command to love my neighbor and my God. But I raise these points as we are in danger of being squeezed in our society and then it will be the poor who will suffer.