Monday, April 18, 2011

Religion in the public sphere

Facebook has causes which one can sign up to. I recently signed up to a couple, both of which drew comment. I want to reflect briefly on how the two fit together for me.

Recently (yesterday) I preached about Palm Sunday. For Christians, this celebrates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. For many, the sole focus of this is that he was going to Jerusalem to die, to be crucified for sins. Yet a close reading of the triumphant entry as it is called shows that Jesus is deliberately identifying himself as Israel's king - the incident is in deliberate fulfillment or acting out Zechariah 9:9 as Matthew records in 21:5. As I pointed out in the sermon, if Jesus is a king then language of personal relationship, restricting his mission to the forgiveness of sins conceived largely as things we do with out genitals and concern only for prayer and bible reading represent a truncated form of Christianity. Instead, confessing Jesus to be king means that Christian faith is a matter of publicly declared allegiance. It means that the Christian faith refuses to be dismissed from the public sphere. As a very important side note, that Jesus is King of the Jews means firstly that a) once more all ideas of anti-Semitism should be knocked on the head and b) God can be trusted as he fulfilled his promises to the Jewish people. That most chose not to accept their king is besides the point - Paul promises that many yet will

So for me, signing up to a Facebook cause for the teaching of faith in public schools (all faiths) is perfectly natural. As someone convinced of the truth of the Christian message I want our kids to hear this expounded. Living in a post-Christian, pluralistic society I also fully accept that this also means the teaching of other faiths, including secular humanism. What I reject is the position that faith has no place in education and that the default position is materialistic humanism.

For me, it also means that opposing hate speech, such as the Facebook group F**K Jesus is my way of wanting to civilise the discussion of faith in the public arena. Two arguments against this I consider invalid or at least weak.

1. Jesus can defend himself. Well in that case don't evangelise, Jesus can reach people for himself. Peter reminds Christians to give a reason for their faith. Christians are called to fertilise society (be salt). Turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile were all forms of non-violent protest (see N T Wright or Walker Wink on these references from the Sermon on the Mount). I take it then that Christians can protest against such aggressive and unnecessarily vulgar language that is designed to cause offense. It isn't always fruitful and I certainly don't see it as mandatory or want to see any return to blasphemy laws.

2. It gives these people 'air to breathe'. Well perhaps, but if Catholics had protested against the Nazis and opposed them more politically it might have given them more publicity but it might also have saved millions.

In short, while we need to not take offense too easily, when we give ground and when we react (in love) will be a personal choice.

1 comment:

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I want to reflect briefly on how the two fit together for me.