Saturday 11 December 2010

Not Ashamed ...

"The Gospel has been under attack.  The Church has been under attack.  Christianity in our country has been under attack for decades."
Thus says the opening speaker in the promo video for the 'Not Ashamed'  Campaign which former Archbishop George Carey launched recently.
It has taken me a little while to get my head around this one.  I have been in something of a dilemma about the campaign, and unsure as to how to respond to it.
On the one hand, I am not ashamed of the Gospel, or my Christian faith.  I am certainly not ashamed of Jesus Christ my Saviour and Lord (although I often find myself being ashamed of His Church of which I am a part).  So from that point of view I want to join the campaign and state clearly my allegiance to Christ.
But on the other hand, I do not recognise the portrayal of a Church and faith under systematic attack for decades.
Sure, I have sometimes been ridiculed for my faith and know how to stand up for what I believe.  This was especially true back in my school days when my fervent teenage faith was a cause for concern in staff meetings, as well as attracting the attention of less caring class-mates.  But I wouldn't call that an attack on Christianity - merely the standard rigours of a all boy's school.
I didn't experience any such attack when I have worked with Local Authority Youth Teams during my training for ordination 20 years ago.  I have never felt under attack as an Anglican Priest, working in some of the most politically correct of London Boroughs.  I have not experienced attack when working with the Metropolitan Police in Community Groups where I always found an open ear when we were seeking to rehabilitate offenders who had come to Christian faith and commitment.
Indeed I certainly did not experience any attack on the Church or Gospel 10 years ago, when I served on the Government's Community Forum for Neighbourhood Renewal, along with a fellow Baptist Minister, and several URC Community Workers.  We were appointed among 20 others from over 600 applicants to advise the then Labour Deputy Prime Minister on urban regeneration.
I do not feel under attack or marginalised when I lead worship and Communion Services today for almost 500 school pupils at a time - by far my biggest regular congregation - or take weekly Christian Assemblies at non-church,  local authority schools.  Nor do I feel under attack when I am granted permission by ward staff  in hospital, to visit a patient outside visiting hours, despite the fact that I will offer to pray with that patient before I leave.
So I am puzzled when the basis of this campaign seems to be that the Gospel is under attack. 
It seems to me that the only times when the Church comes under attack are when we refuse to engage in equality legislation enabling us to claim exemptions and continue to discriminate against women and homosexuals - or when we try to claim a continuing right to unelected representation in the House of Lords in spite of our consistent attempts to sidestep the law on the basis of the Christian faith, and in opposition to public opinion.
If there is any sense of the Gospel being under attack in Britain today it is because we have presented a distorted gospel, more concerned with our own prejudices and self-righteous desire for power than with serving our neighbours in the love of God.
So on balance, I will not be joining the campaign, but I will continue to be completely unashamed of my faith in Jesus Christ, and continue to pray for a Church which will proclaim that faith without prejudice or discrimination.

Sunday 5 December 2010

I'm dreaming of a white (black, gay, straight, gypsy, immigrant, rich, poor) Christmas ...

As we approach Christmas, our thoughts naturally turn to the ones we love.  Family, friends, & neighbours all feature in our minds as we write our Christmas cards, buy gifts and wrap presents.
But there is so much more to the Christmas story.
There is politics, military occupation, rough-sleeping shepherds, migrant foreigners, and in the end, a family of refugees forced to become asylum seekers.  Not quite the snowy scene of a Christmas card.
And there is plenty of prejudice, injustice, abuse of power, and vulnerability to go around.
Yet Christ came to challenge all these things.  In his birth, he challenges all our pre-conceptions about who is, and is not important in God's eyes.  In those who responded to the call to worship the baby , God challenges our attitudes to wanderers, foreigners and those of other faiths.  In the actions of the powerful, God shows us the futility of earthly power and authority.
In Christ's birth, he challenges us to a new way of looking at the world where everyone is valued, and all have a part in God's plan, irrespective of the prejudices of others.
So who will we have in mind as we hear the Christmas story this year?   People  like us, or people very different to us?  Whoever they may be.