How would you defend your life? If you were on trial for what you believed in, what would you say?
I suppose part of the answer to that question is going to be determined by what you actually believe. Are you a Christian? Then you will answer in ways which reveal and reinforce your Christianity. Are you a Muslim? Then you will answer in ways which reveal and reinforce your Islam. Are you an atheist? Then you will answer in ways which reveal and reinforce your atheism. And so the list of beliefs could go on and on.
Now, as people debate things endlessly on blogs, forums, op-ed pieces and the constant barrage of the 24-hour news cycle, we can watch people defend their actions. The same thing has been true for thousands of years. We defend our actions based upon our beliefs.
Five members of one Israeli family were murdered in the town of Itamar. Muslims took credit for the attack. Read this article here and you will see the defence of actions in accordance with belief. Sometimes, in incidents like this, such a defence is sickening.
In the war which is taking place in the world, we can see some battlefields being drawn as people defend their actions by referencing their beliefs.
The Prisoner and the King
The early Christian apostle Paul once stood on trial before a king. The book of Acts records Paul’s defence of his actions in its 26th Chapter. Paul stands before Agrippa – the prisoner before the king – and gives an account of his life. The first nineteen verses recall Paul’s life as a Jew and then Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. Then Paul makes this statement. “And so, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Today we can take up this same statement as our own refrain in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom. We can say, “And so, David Cameron, and so, Barack Obama; and so, Muammar Qaddafi; and so, Stonewall; and so, bin Laden; and so, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, we cannot be disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Our work is to bring the vision of heaven into as much reality on Earth as is possible.
Where is the battle line drawn? Acts 26:19-20 records Paul saying: “And so, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” There are three areas of conflict in this verse: the location, the message and the lifestyle. Paul preached in Jerusalem, Judea and then everywhere. Paul preached a message of repentance and return to God through Christ. Paul declared the necessity of a change in lifestyle to demonstrate faith.
Heaven versus Earth: Location
We certainly face a conflict over where Christians can and cannot live and practice their beliefs. Let me give you some examples: Nadia Eweida lost her court case to allow her to wear a cross around her neck as she was working for British Airways. The story: be a Christian anywhere but here. In Iraq, between the invasion in 2003 and now, an estimated 700,000 Christians have fled the country due to pressure from Islamic groups. They receive little help or protection from the government. The story: be a Christian anywhere but here. Only recently Peter Sissons, former presenter for the BBC, said this: “Islam must not be offended at any price, although Christians are fair game because they do nothing about it if they are offended.” The story: be a Christian anywhere but here. Christians in the UK are being more and more dismayed by the way in which they are being treated by an institutionalised culture of secular humanism. Liberal values are everywhere and they make life very difficult for Christians when the right to practice religion freely is plainly ranked below other human rights.
Heaven Versus Earth: Message
We also face a certain conflict over the Christian message. What are we allowed to preach, to say and to imply?
Let me quote an opinion article from Thomas Prosser featured in the Guardian newspaper. Thomas Prosser is a lecturer in Sociology at the ironically named Trinity College in Dublin. He says this: “Given the propensity of religious groups to inspire in young people long-term allegiance to their particular faith, questions also arise concerning the potency of the doctrine that religious institutions preach to youngsters. A scrutiny of the youth evangelism strategies of one of the UK’s largest faith groups, evangelical Christians, should give liberals serious cause for concern… All of this raises the question of what is to be done. Given the emotional impact such ideas potentially have upon children and youth, it appears to me highly desirable that some form of public action is taken. Two minefields present themselves: The first is the view that religious institutions, under the aegis of religious liberty, have the right to preach whatever doctrine they wish without state interference. This position is rebuttable. Christian churches would not be able, under hate legislation, to advocate slavery or the killing of witches (as many once did) on the basis of certain Old Testament verses for instance. Twenty-first century child welfare standards mean that other doctrines should join the list. A second objection, that parents have the right to take their children to the religious services of their choosing, is trickier to negotiate. The state placing limits upon children’s attendance of religious services with their parents is clearly unacceptable in a liberal society…”
While Thomas Prosser may not speak for the UK government he does say what many liberal voices want to have said. The potential for the government to begin to attempt to actually restrict Christian preaching at Christian events is very high.
Heaven Versus Earth: Lifestyle
Only recently the Christian lifestyle has been under attack as well. In the case of Owen and Eunice Johns, David Cameron spoke out about the court’s ruling against their suitability as foster parents. I quote here from a news website: “They are considering an appeal but the Prime Minister, who was told of the case yesterday while in Derby to hold a meeting of his Cabinet, said the judge’s decision should stand. Pointing out that he also went to church, Mr Cameron said: “This matter was decided by a court in the appropriate way and I think we should rest with the judgement that was made.“ Asked if he thought Christian views were incompatible with an acceptance of homosexuality he said: “I think Christians should be tolerant and welcoming and broad minded.”
No, Mr. Cameron, we should not be tolerant of sinful behaviour. No, Mr. Cameron, we should not welcome hypocrisy into the church. No, Mr. Cameron, we should not broaden our minds because we believe the Bible when it says, “Broad is the way that leads to destruction.”
Tune in to the next post to see how I think Christians can respond to these conflicts and how we can take up the fight in the various battlegrounds of belief.
What do you think? Which of your beliefs determine your actions? Can you see areas where your actions defy your beliefs?