One of my biggest worries is how Christians behave and see the world around them. Too often there is a sense in which they see themselves as attacked and besieged. You can see this in a whole series of different ways.
There is the daily series of what seems to be attempts to undermine the Christian faith in this country. So, in the past week there are several stories to choose from.
Firstly, there was the news that BC/AD is being removed from the history books in favour of BCE/CE (“Before the Common Era” and “Common Era”). This appears in the US, Australia and in many historical works in this country.
Then there was the news that Christians Against Poverty have been thrown out of their umbrella organisation.
A Christian organisation has been ditched by a national charity for offering to pray for people with debt problems.
Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has been forced to leave AdviceUK, an umbrella group representing the interests of thousands of advice workers, after it was judged that praying was ‘incompatible’ with membership.
AdviceUK felt that offering to pray for someone was a form of payment.
Steve Johnson, chief executive of AdviceUK, described the offer of prayer by CAP as an ‘emotional fee’.
Then there is the story in the BBC that there is growing pressure to get rid of school assemblies. So a spokesman for one of the unions is reported
Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) chief policy advisor Alison Ryan questioned how much schools and parents wanted daily worship.
“People are concerned about inclusivity, how much is it wanted by parents, pupils or even the staff themselves?
“When a law is being flouted on a pretty major scale that is telling you something about its use, about how maybe it should be reformed or changed, so we believe it needs to be looked at.”
That is apart from the huge furore about the proposed change to the health bill to ensure independent counselling for those seeking abortion.
As I wrote back in March there are two aspects that Christians need to reflect on. The first is how faith is seen in society in a general way and secondly, the answer to the question that people ask (usually subconsciously) “How much benefit do I gain from being part of it?”
But there is a third question that Christians need to answer. How do we portray our faith to others? If we continue to allow ourselves to be portrayed as an embattled minority that sees itself as “persecuted” then we rarely evoke sympathy outside those around us (on the other hand it is very easy for a preacher to evoke sympathy and a sense of persecution from his/her congregation on these areas). Rather people see us as whingeing and demanding privileges that they don’t feel that they have.
So here is my suggestion for what its worth. Lets stop focussing on us and start focussing on those in need around us. Lets stop worrying what the government or others will do to us and worry about how we can bless our communities and fight for justice for those in need.
So, in the cases above. If the change in academia and in the schools to CE and BCE comes about (as it is) then that’s a great way to ask questions such as asking someone what CE and BCE means and what date they start from and why. Asking people to think through why people started to choose that date and why that might be important.
In the case of Christians against Poverty I think that they have taken a principled stand and not claimed persecution. Of course, Advice UK are being disingenuous in their attack. They claim that the offer of prayer is a “fee” and yet on their website they state
AdviceUK is committed to the principle that advice should be free at the point of delivery but we accept that charging may provide a key to sustainability for some member organisations. We expect the majority of advice delivered by a member organisation to be free. We also expect clients to be fully informed about charges and to be under no obligation to pay or donate.
So, the real issue is the fact that a religious organisation is helping those in need. I’m pleased that CAP is continuing their great work and not being put off by AdviceUK. That’s the right way to go forward – continue to help those in need and not be afraid that it is informed by our faith.
The third is the school assemblies. I’m not totally convinced that they work for many – especially in schools that don’t want them. Too often they are done badly (if at all) and reluctantly and this probably does more harm than good. The problem then is that all too often children perceive Christianity through the lens of those assemblies (and often that’s not good!). So, often you find that assemblies are used as a form of social behaviour control – assemblies on being nice or quiet. I know that some of my assemblies were not met with approbation as I wasn’t into ensuring that the children were quiet! Maybe it is time to allow this area to wither on the vine and we find other ways of sharing faith through CU’s in school or in ideas such as Messy Church or through youth in churches encouraged to invite their friends to events.
We need to construct a positive view of Christianity that stops allowing ourselves to be put in a pigeon-hole. A vision of Christianity rooted in the promises of Jesus to his disciples that nothing would overcome his church and that he would be with them always. From there we can share our lives with others, we can look to see how we can bind up the wounds of others, stand up for justice (especially for others) and share our faith with those who will listen.
Dismantle the walls and get out of the bunker. Our communities need us.