Tuesday, October 08, 2013

No God Zone by Cristina Odone

On Sunday 22nd September two Islamic terrorists strapped on explosives-laden suicide vests, headed for All Saints Church, Peshawr, Pakistan and blew themselves up. Eighty five members of the congregation were slaughtered in what was the deadliest ever attack on Christians in the country (see here). Writing in The Spectator, John L. Allen Jr. cites evidence that 100,000 Christians have been killed 'in a situation of witness' each year for the last decade. In the light of those harrowing statistics, Cristina Odone's book-length complaint concerning the treatment of Christians in the West seems rather self-indulgent.

However, she is right to point out that as the West has become increasingly secular, expressions of faith are being excluded from public life. In this 'No God Zone', Christian registrars have lost their jobs for refusing to officiate at Civil Partnership ceremonies. Open air preachers have had their collars felt by the police simply for proclaiming a message that people don't want to hear. Whatever happened to free speech?

Part of the problem is a shift in the meaning of tolerance. Tolerance used to mean putting up with views with which we might strongly disagree. More recently tolerance has taken on a new aspect, involving the acceptance of more or less all views as equally valid (see here). The new 'tolerance' is in fact deeply intolerant. Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close because of their policy of only placing children with heterosexual couples. Odone cites many more examples of this kind of thing affecting both Christians and people from other faith groups.

What to do? Odone suggests that Christians should take a leaf from the the gay rights campaign handbook. As she points out, gay rights campaigners sought to win sympathy for their cause by highlighting the way in which society marginalised homosexual people. They drew attention to high profile figures who were gay in order to remove the stigma of abnormality. By writing this book Odone is trying to do something similar by showing that Christians are now the unfairly oppressed minority. She exhorts believers to be bold in bearing witness to their faith in the public square.  

I can see what the writer is getting at and it is fair enough for Christians to insist that their democratic right to religious freedom is respected. However, that is not the whole story. What is happening to Christians outside of the West is a reminder that following Jesus involves being willing to suffer for his sake. The New Testament could not be clearer on this point, John 15:18, Philippians 1:29, 2 Timothy 3:12. 

Christian values have had a huge impact on Western culture, but we should not always expect to have the upper hand as the moral and spiritual guardians of society. Odone is a Roman Catholic and I sense that what she longs for is a restoration of the Christian cultural hegemony that was Christendon. She references the crowning of Charlemagne by the pope on Christmas Day, 800 A.D. But there can be no going back to the days of Holy Roman Emperors and popes who claimed absolute power over church and state, as did Gregory VII at Canossa.

We should not long wistfully for the restoration of Christendom. The church of the New Testament was a despised minority and yet it had great power. The church will not win the day by following the blueprint of gay rights handbook. Rather we should learn the lessons of the Acts of the Apostles. The early church responded to a hostile 'No Jesus Zone' by fervent prayer, Spirit-empowered gospel preaching and practical Christian living. Have a read of Acts 4.

The historian T. R. Glover has written that the early Christians made such a powerful impact on the ancient world because they 'out-thought, out-lived, and out-died' everyone else. And we need to do the same if we are to see the increasingly 'No God Zone' of the West filled with the presence of God once more. 

1 comment:

Ben said...

Very well said. The response the apostles made to early experience of persecution was not to pray for protection or even to defend their rights, but to pray for greater boldness (the very thing that was guaranteed to bring them more trouble). "Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word."

Excluded, I think you meant, in para 2.