As some folk who follow my blogs know, I have been away from my safe little bubble (desk, computer, Internet, all in my house) for a month and it has been good to reflect on things staying with my family in far away India. Part of what I do in that confined space, away from the battles raging and semi protected by virtue of being an oldie on his way out and one to be humoured, is to observe what goes on in the world around me in the belief the Lord has called me to be a Watchman on the Wall and if I don’t warn, regardless who listens and heeds, there will be dire consequences for all concerned.
I am conscious there are times I have crossed the line between speaking and keeping silent, and always a balance needs to be struck and when we do speak we say what is needful at the time. One of the principles I swore to abide by when I entered the blogosphere was that of “true, necessary and kind” and I confess I haven’t always kept to this, although some who have taken umbrage needed to be challenged, especially those in leadership positions, and my reading of the Bible is while the role of watchman was an important one, more often than not watchmen were not popular with those who refused to wake up and had to pay a high price for speaking out.
One of my Facebook friends recently shared with me two links, likely by way of gentle reminder of how I should act when tempted to go into righteous indignation mode. The first “Christians Do Not Have Freedom of Speech” began: “One of the things that makes America so great is the ability to express yourself — much to the joy, and even pain, of those around you. The freedom of speech is a two-edged sword and more often than not the one who wields it doesn’t fully grasp the power behind it. Sadly there is no better example of poor usage of this freedom than when directed at the political arena.” It ended “While the Constitution of the United States gave us the right to speak our mind, I can’t help but think that our Lord is the one who gave us the right to remain silent. So choose life — when you’re tempted to verbally murder someone, remain silent”. What was said in-between I largely agreed with.
The second share “What does Christian use of social media look like?” began: “To a little fanfare, and quite wide coverage in the media, the Church of England has launched guidelines on the use of social media, and a social media charter, to which I have signed up. The guidelines offer nine directions for how to enable the world of social media to be a better place (though I am wondering whether they missed a trick here in not adding one more…!):” and continues by setting out what that guidance was and with the author adding his own words of wisdom on the subject, which again I found myself agreeing with, having seen first hand many of the dangers.
I realize both articles were aimed at Christians and not all my readers are Christians. The first thing to say to such is Christians, including me, don’t always get it right. It could be what they say is wrong, or right but said in the wrong way (big issue with the present trend of apologizing for all sorts of wrong attitudes, actions, words perpetrated by our spiritual forefathers) and, in any case, Christians do not always sing from the same hymn sheet, in fact far from it. But for the Christians, there is a time to keep silent and a time to speak, as I am constantly reminded of this truth when reading one of my often returned to passages in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
The challenge we all face is one of timing. I have noticed with the rise in popularity of social media in recent years along with controversial yet influential figures like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and hot potato issues like immigration, LBGT rights and social justice, that Christians are increasing falling out, and it can’t just be put down to differing theological understandings. All this I keep in mind as I ponder my approach to venturing forth (Outside the Camp) into the market place of an assortment of weird and wonderful ideas with my views on many matters, mindful I am merely God’s Unprofitable Servant whose job is to serve Him. This includes living a good life, serving the poor and oppressed and preaching the gospel of the grace of God in a non partisan way.
Related to the above thinking is something another Facebook friend posted recently, maybe also mindful of a needed corrective: “How to balance the requirement not to be judgmental (judge not lest ye be judged) and to use discernment to call out sin? I ask as some christians seem to be at one extreme or the other….all judgment or all free passes….or just to call out their favorite sins and let all other sinful behaviour ignored?” I think one of the key words here is balance and as my friend suggests there are Christians at either extreme. It seems too that Christians are often negatively portrayed as being judgmental and while sin should be called out for what it is and done so even handedly, judging is something best left to God.
I have little doubt we are now seeing Christianity being increasingly marginalized and those who stand for Christ coming under more attacks (although paradoxically that which is to do with the real thing will prosper). I wonder if disdain for Christians is part due to having kept silence when they should have spoken out. The rise of Hitler in 1930’s Germany and the shutting out of God in the public square (USA and UK) post WW2 are two examples that come to mind. Yet one has to ask, how many outside the Church have been stumbled by Christians keen to talk the talk (which may sadly be correct) but falling down walking the walk (e.g. serving the poor)?
I close with something that is related and not and apologies in advance if a couple of key facts are missing. It came out in our church mid week Bible study and given thoughts going through my mind seemed particularly pertinent. In the late nineteenth century, it was evident that Christianity had an important impact on society and certain ministers with the gift of the gab could sway public opinion, and society’s movers and shakers. One such spoke out about one influential politician, Charles Parnell (see here), most famous for holding the balance of power in Parliament and pushing for Irish Home Rule. The Christian minister, who I judge as being one of the good guys, insofar he walked the walk as well as talked the talk, spoke out against Parnell being given high political office, despite sympathy for his views, because he was an adulterer. His outspokenness was a significant factor in that being the end result.
One can hardly imagine something similar happening today, not just because of Christianity becoming marginalized, but I wonder if there are church leaders who could speak out and if they did there would be others saying the opposite. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are adulterers and guilty of sexual misconduct to be sure. Yet many from the Conservative Evangelical camp support them as being the best of a bad bunch. Also, there will be those from that same camp who won’t support them because of their past misdeeds. Others looking on will accuse this first group of hypocrisy for glossing over Donald and Boris’ misconduct while calling out Liberal types, who in the past did much the same thing. I am mindful I have gone off on a tangent and, while I support Donald and Boris for reasons that I have documented elsewhere, notwithstanding their obvious moral shortcomings, I am mindful some fellow Christians will see things differently, as did this influential man of God, blast from the past.