Recently a footballer in Australia listed a group of people he believes need to repent or face judgement after death - while also assuring them that they are loved and anything can be forgiven - the media and activists become apoplectic and his employer sacked him because it is unacceptable to say something so offensive - the offence being that he included homosexuals in that list of sinners who needed to repent.
Meanwhile our closest neighbours just to the north, regularly drag people into the public square and repeatedly whip them with a cane for 'getting to close to the opposite sex' or sex outside marriage and also for engaging in homosexual behaviour. Homosexuals and fornicators face up to 100 lashes.
What is the response of our media? - simply a matter of fact article that describes what happened (view it here). No outrage, no lengthy commentary about how the religion that endorses this (Islam) is horrible or backward or bigoted, no declaration that people who do this are extremists or fundamentalists. No cries of homophobia, no demands for action. In fact not even one harsh word.
People have told me many times this year that I am basically imaging things when I suggest that the media has an anti-Christian bias. Things like this however demonstrate the hypocrisy in the media when reporting anything to do with religion. To see it in action just wait for the next prominent Christian to say something that can be construed to go even marginally against what is the new social orthodoxy - there will again be outrage, calls for sackings, boycotts, mocking of Christians as 'sky fairy' worshippers - then recall and compare the article about homosexuals facing 100 lashes in Indonesia...
The media seems to become obsessed whenever a Christian makes a comment or suggestion that goes against the grain of society. Meanwhile the Islamic extremists to our North are publicly beating people for holding hands. Meanwhile child marriage is still being practised in this country, meanwhile female genital mutilation is still happening... but there is no outrage, there is no vitriol, no calls for boycotts, sackings and certainly no mocking of believers. To mock our Muslim neighbours for their faith would be Islamophobic!
But the argument still goes that Christians aren't being targeted by the media and by activists. Ironically, the mere fact we raise it as an issue is reason to mock and ridicule us more. The suggestion that we need religious freedom protected not just for us but everyone (because the freedom to believe, practice and manifest what you believe is a recognised human right) is instead made out to be a grab for 'power' or a demanding of 'special treatment' or the 'right to be bigots' because apparently wanting people who are employed by a faith based organisation to uphold the teachings and values of that faith is bigoted - yet no one ever suggests that political parties are bigoted for only wanting to hire people who are wiling to support and uphold their particular ideology.
No-one would bat an eye if the Greens fired someone for publicly advocating that climate change is a hoax, yet if a Christian school wants the power to sack someone who publicly advocates for things that go against their religious teaching and beliefs (say same sex marriage) then they are horrible bigots. Of course Islamic and Jewish schools want exactly the same right protected - to ensure people working in a faith based organisation support and promote that faith - but strangely there is no mocking of those organisations, no declaration of bigotry... hmmm...
So how do we deal with this? How do we as Christians respond to a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to traditional, orthodox Christianity? With love of course! We need to respond by loving the world around us, by loving our neighbour as ourselves - even the ones who mock us and ridicule us. We need to show the world the love of God poured out in our own lives and in how we relate to the world. What does that look like though? Do we withdraw from the public square? Do we cede to the demands to keep our faith to ourselves, caving in to societies mantra that 'faith is private'?
No, we don't do those things, instead I think we need to be bold, we need to engage and we need more than ever to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will face opposition, and I suspect that as time goes by it will only get harder, society is on a trajectory which is moving away from faith and towards a militant kind of secularism - and this will affect not just us, as the activists and media seem to think, but also our Muslim, Jewish and Hindu neighbours. It will have a chilling effect on the freedom of faithful people of all religions, and be detrimental to the harmony of our pluralist multicultural society, as religious people withdraw into fear based 'silos' cut off from the hostility outside - indeed there are already mainstream Christians suggesting we do just that.
I don't think that is a viable or worthwhile option. I argue that in the face of ridicule and mocking, we need to respond with care and respect. In the face of threats to employment and reputational consequences, we need to speak the truth of the Gospel, the hope of the Gospel, the love of the Gospel. That means unlike much of the Christian commentary of the last few decades we cannot continue to be 'one issue' people. Issues like abortion, and same sex marriage have tended to dominate Christian commentary on society. While these are important issues and Christians can and should speak on them, we need to move away from speaking judgement - judgement belongs to God not us.
The key is that whenever we speak to the world outside the church, we need to speak not from a place of judgement, not from a place of condescension, but from a place of genuine concern, love and respect. We should only speak into the public debate for the promotion of the Gospel, and to give a Gospel focused voice into public discourse. That means we don't seek to condemn those outside the church, we instead seek to convict them through sharing the good news of God's love, forgiveness and hope.
We don't need to be targeting expectant mothers and homosexuals and warning them about judgement and Hell, we instead need to be walking along side them and sharing the love of God, being open, and supportive. Yes that will mean that when it comes up we will be honest about our view of things like same sex marriage, but our view on something like same sex marriage or abortion should not be the basis on which we establish a relationship with someone. The truth is we will never convince someone of God's love for them by seeking to argue with them, or by condemning them or their loved ones. Telling someone they are going to burn in Hell isn't loving - that footballer I mentioned at the start of this article should take that on board.
If we want to bring people into relationship with God, if we want them to know they are loved, that no matter what they have done they can be forgiven, restored, and made whole, starting with: 'you are a horrible sinner who is going to burn in hell', isn't a good strategy. The core of the Gospel message is found in these words:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Jesus died to save us - all of us. God loves us enough come to earth as one of us, to suffer and die for us, to rise again for us. His desire is to save us, and he does that because of his incredible, all encompassing love for us. If we want people to turn from sin and the desires and brokenness of this world, we need to start from the same place God started - love.
I know some of you are thinking that I am suggesting that we ignore sin, that we never mention it, and provide a watered down version of the Gospel. That is not what I am saying. Yes, we need to explain sin, yes we need to encourage repentance, but we do so first and foremost by explaining that our sin is not what defines us, our sin will not be a barrier to God's love. We start by recognising that while justification comes through faith, sanctification is a process and not instant. We should encourage people to identify and confront their own sin, by guiding them to the scriptures, and walking with them rather than making our own judgements, condemnations and demands for change. When we are asked about sin, we do not pretend it isn't real, but we also re-enforce that through Christ, sin and death have been defeated. That we need not fear Hell or judgement as long as we are genuine in our faith and seeking to follow Christ.
Love. Forgiveness. Hope.
In a hostile, angry, broken world, our response should be living the Gospel out through love, forgiveness and hope.
Fr Daryl is an Anglican priest living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.