During the recent Pope's visit to the UK, I found myself listening to an radio interview with someone who was protesting against it. The interviewer asked the protester if she was an 'aggressive secularist'.
The protester replied enthusiastically, "Yes! 100% ...!" then thought about her answer a little more and added. "I'm not against religious people - just religion!"
I found myself quite affronted by this .
The protester meant well by it, wanting to reassure the audience that she didn't mean to be aggressive towards religious people, but what came over to me was offensive because it underestimated the place of my Christian faith in my life.
The reality is, that my faith isn't an 'add on' to the rest of my life - something which can be put on or taken off at will to suit the situation. It is an indispensable part of me, right top the core of my being!. I have put my trust in Jesus Christ and committed my life to following him. As a result I believe that I have been 'born again' into a new life which will carry me through to eternity, and my life now is inextricably linked to my faith. It is an indelible part of who I am.
So the comment that this lady was not against religious people - just religion - was actually deeply offensive to me. Me and my religion are inextricably intertwined, and can't be simply separated off like that!
But then I began thinking about where this kind of distinction might come from ...
Because we, as the church, have championed this kind of false distinction. 'Good' Christian people have told women for many years that they are not against women - just women's ministry as priests (or now as bishops). We have told Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Christians that we are not against homosexual people - just homosexuality! We have rolled out the exact same phrase to justify our prejudice, imagining that it will make it acceptable, and failed to see that in doing so we have been trying to separate and devalue a fundamental part of their human identity and humanity.
A homosexual cannot set aside his or her sexuality like taking off coat to suit the situation, just as I cannot set aside my faith in order to become acceptable to others. A woman cannot suddenly cease to be a woman and say "Oh, that's ok then" when someone excludes her from ministry simply because of her gender.
Jesus said "You shall reap what you sow" and how true that is. I may be offended by the suggestion that my faith is an optional add-on to my life, but that is what we (the Church) are still telling people about our their gender or sexuality. So it is perhaps not surprising that we get a taste of our own medicine from time to time.
The most effective counter to this 'aggressive secularist' would, of course, be to stop making that false distinction ourselves - to accept women as equally human as men - to accept sexuality (of whatever orientation) as part of our humanity rather than something which has to be re-directed, controlled by denial, or healed.
I hope that we will get to this point one day, because until we do, we will continue to do what that secularist lady did - to devalue things that are more than what we do or say - they are a part of who we are - to the glory of God our creator and redeemer.
On a lighter note - I love the message of this song and video by Francesca Battistelli, and it fits with the sentiment of this posting. Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKSQjSdU8VA to watch the video.