It seems today that we live in a minefield of political correctness, in which people are more likely to believe what they choose to hear or interpret rather than what you actually said or meant. In such a sensitive environment, does it make it harder to speak up about issues? Is there now a fear of being labelled as Anti, Phobic or –ist, or simply being rubbished and told “It’s none of your business”? Does this keep the prophetic voice silent?
Amidst the swirling turmoil of public opinion which is often hostile to the Church, what do Christians do in the face of unprincipled opposition? How is it possible for Christians to fulfil the Fourth Mark of Mission ‘To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation’, without being accused of intolerance or being abused in the media?
This is a not a new problem. Jesus was labelled a drunkard and glutton; he was accused of consorting with prostitutes. By openly criticising and opposing the law and the traditions, Jesus was seen as traitor to Judaism.
There is no place in our Christian faith for hatred towards anybody, and certainly no place for hatred because of a person’s faith, nationality, political views, philosophy of life or sexuality. There is a reason why Jesus chose his principal character to be “The Good Samaritan”. It is a story which provides us with a model for the Third Mark of Mission, ‘To respond to human need by loving service’.
There are Christians who struggle deeply with the ordination of women as Priests and Bishops. This does not make them misogynists, although some will be. There are Christians who take a particular view of homosexuality. This does not make them homophobic, although some will be. There are Christians who campaign against the activities of the Israeli Government in Palestine. This does not make them Anti-Semitic, although some will be. There are Christians who are deeply concerned about the globalisation of Islam. This does not make them Islamophobic, although some will be.
Jesus was not afraid to engage with those of different viewpoints. At times the language he uses against those in positions of power and authority is astonishing in its directness and bluntness. But to those who were the victims of the misuse of power and authority, Jesus only responds with love and compassion. His actions, loving or challenging, always follow periods of prayer and reflection. He tells us not everybody will like it (Luke 12). Jesus is surely the signpost to how Christians should be in the world. In all things there needs to be prayerful discernment. The writer of 1 John 4 says that we should test all things with the Holy Spirit. The benchmarks of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5) include the energy, joy, and courage we need, which help us to love more, and which strengthen us in the unity of our faith.
Rev Anton Muller (pictured) is County Ecumenical Officer for Lancashire, and Prof Ian Marshall is Quaker Denominational Ecumenical Officer for Lancashire.