Saturday, 5 February 2011

On a serious note...

The prime minister has said:

"Let's properly judge these organisations: Do they believe in universal human rights - including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separatism? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask. Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations"

Oh dear - the Church is in big trouble.

As we know it today, the Church is far from being universally equal in its treatment of the genders. Despite Paul's theme of radical equality between all kinds of Christian, perhaps best epitomised in Galatians 3:28 (but laced throughout his work), we persist in using a couple of passages, out of context, to deny all else that Paul teaches on the issue. Of course we conveniently forget the radical inclusivity with which Jesus treated people too, because we don’t have a documented account of a statement of doctrinal position.

Equally, how welcoming have many Christian people been of people of other faiths? How many people have we heard say "this is supposed/used to be a Christian country!". Even in a city like Cardiff, which has been multicultural since its inception, I hear that kind of attitude regularly. Perhaps we didn’t mind so much when people kept to their own areas, and didn’t live next door to us? “Do [we] encourage integration or separatism?”

Speaking of ‘groups that get public money but do little to tackle extremism’, the BBC reports that the Prime Minister said “Ministers should refuse to share platforms or engage with such groups, which should be denied access to public funds and barred from spreading their message in universities and prisons.

Is there extremism the Christian faith? How does it look to a watching world when American Pastor Terry Jones stirs up hatred? How about Christians in Uganda who want to kill those accused of homosexuality, those who offer a public service but refuse it to gay couples, protests against musicals, hundreds of years of violence...

So what have we done to tackle extremism within the Church recently? Hmmm... maybe we should be giving the building grant money back? I’d better not go and help out the prison’s Christian fellowship again, and should certainly keep my mouth shut in Uni.

Well, Cameron was talking about Muslim groups but, clearly, who are we to point the finger? It upsets me that the language of extremism and division is being used to foster just that. As a Baptist, I feel it’s my duty and heritage to oppose such "anti-extremism"-extremism. Early Baptists didn’t campaign for their own freedom of conscience when they were still an illegal group (see Thomas Helwys), but argued for religious freedom for all.

How easy it would be to sit back and tolerate, nay approve of, the oppression of Muslims, in the name of ‘freedom’. But what happens when Christians fall out of fashion? What happens when we get comfortable and stop caring about politics, and our opinions become worthless when we don’t vote. Or what about when our rights begin to be restricted too? When we stand and declare “Freedom of conscience!”, who will stand with us, when we look such hypocrites?

Next time we sing "I will speak out for those who have no voices, I will stand up for the rights of all the oppressed" let's remember what we're singing.

And if for no other reason:

“First they came for the communists,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

- Pastor Martin Niemoller

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