This week has been an interesting one for Christians in politics....
The decision to ban Christians from praying outside an abortion clinic will cause deep disappointment for those involved but we must expect challenges to anything identified as Christian.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first,” said Jesus. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
So we must expect to be challenged and challenges are not all bad. They can awaken us from complacency. If we see Christian values being rejected, is it because we have ceased to demonstrate their relevance to our lives and work? If the salt stays in the salt cellar, Matthew 5 tells us, the meat will inevitably go bad. A challenge may also be an opportunity so it is worth considering some examples.
Everyone has a worldview – the set of attitudes, assumptions and accumulated expectations which shape how we interpret and respond to everything we experience. A central characteristic of contemporary culture is its focus on individualism. The collapse of Communism signalled that collectivism does not work. The individual must have sufficient freedom to make crucial personal decisions for him or herself. The Bible sets high value on the individual but it sets us in the context of family and community.
Post-modernity exalts the individual beyond those constraints and we see the consequences in the shopping malls which have been described as the cathedrals of our consumerist age. Rodney Clapp, the author of “Families at the Crossroads” observed that “In the post-modern world, heaven is a vast supermarket; hell is a corner shop stocking only one brand of aspirin, or toilet paper, or more significantly, only one brand of religion, morality or marriage.”
It is just a short step from individualism to relativism. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes. There is nothing new about this. Judges 21:25 tells us a thousand years before Christ, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit”. If the majority see no difference between cohabiting and marriage and same-sex marriage is acceptable, these are the contemporary equivalents. The consequence is that the moral consensus rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview is rejected. We see the result in the statistics for family breakdown and one child in four experiencing the emotional harm that it can cause.
The anger directed at child abusers and paedophiles suggests there are still some absolutes. The problem is that values separated from beliefs are vulnerable to changing fads and panic reactions to the latest cause celebre. The result is the moral anarchy within which almost everything is an option and in this culture anyone who stands up for biblical moral absolutes is branded a bigot. In a relativist culture which recognises no absolutes, no-one is allowed to claim there is only one way. We can believe what we want so long as we keep it to ourselves. This leads to the privatisation of faith. Humanists campaigning for the abolition of religious education and assemblies in schools do so on the grounds that religion has no place in the public square.
These challenges need to be recognised and understood but we should not be demoralised by them. Biblical values have been challenged many times over the last two millennia. Psalm 33 reminds us “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the people.” The Book of Acts shows how the early church faced the huge challenges confronting them, trusting in the faith they had been given. History records the impact of Wesley, Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect and Lord Shaftesbury and Christians in every generation have resisted the challenges of their day. In “The Habits of the Heart”, Robert Bellah has suggested that when 2% of a society have a new vision they can change the quality of its culture. That is the real challenge facing Christians today.