Christians need to earn the right to ask for liberty. We have to earn that right before we take cases, such as that of Gary McFarlane to court. We have not done a good enough job in earning that right because we have withdrawn from the spheres that translate our good work into the public consciousness of our land. Our corporate witness that attests to the grace, love and compassion of Jesus, coupled with a loving prophetic voice which was his act on the cross and Gods resurrecting Jesus has been weakened. His roar has been quietened by our neglect to be truly in the world. Before we bicker about our freedom, we should set out how we will earn it.
Christians live in a reality in which our works cannot save us. Things are not made “fair” because we have treated others “fairly” but because Jesus has treated us profoundly unfairly and decided to take the due and fair punishment on himself so that we don’t have to feel the pain of real fairness. Of course, because Jesus has done this, we in turn strive to be more than fair and go the extra mile, turn the other cheek. This is the right response to persecution of any kind, whether it is by your bigger brother, or by Big Brother.
But we live in a world which is governed by rules, customs and laws, which help us relate to our fellow citizens, comrades, men and women. We live in the city of man and it overlaps with the city of God.
The settlement we find ourselves in at this time is not the same settlement a first century Christian would have found herself in. We have rights. We are protected under the law of the land, even under the law of international bodies such as the UN and EU. We are protected from persecution, and while the church has given up the power it received (and some might say, co-opted) in the Middle Ages, we still seek to influence public policy and protect our common interests, as well as advocate for the common good. Our view of the common good might digress from the view of the secularists, or even fellow members of the church, but we are a part of the fabric of society and it is right for us to be involved. However things might be heading amiss.
Recently there has been a lot of hulabaloo around legal cases in which Christians have been seeking security in their situation of employment. The examples most often cited are people wanting to wear crosses, or somebody having been chastised and excommunicated in a secular way (fired from employment) for asking if a patient would like prayer, or seeking some sort of flexibility amongst those that perform civil partnerships, in order for a practicing Christian not to have to go against their conscience and ‘civilise in partnership’ (I struggle to find a verb) gay or lesbian couples. Christians have gone to court to clarify the law in order to protect our freedom. Christian pressure groups and legal societies have seen through the ruse of the secularist agenda and are fighting back.
The most recent case is that of Gary McFarlane, a sex therapist working for Relate who lost his job because he asked his employer whether he could be exempt from counselling gay couples because he felt that his conscience, informed by his faith, would be compromised if he did talk about the mechanics of gay sex to a couple figuring out how to relate to each other. Our freedoms are being curtailed. The liberal secularist vision of a completely private faith is certainly something we need to be worried about, fight against and hopefully win legal battles over.
But we need to do a lot more than that. Before Christian leaders can start promoting fear, squealing about their right to proclaim what they believe true historical biblical Christianity teaches, the church needs to remember the message from the Sermon on the Mount.
As theologians, informed by historians have pointed out, turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile mean doing what is required of us, but going further and showing, indeed humiliating and subverting the value structure of fairness, which in turn surprises those that have eyes to see, ears to hear and tongues to confess. This is a form of witness, which the proclamation and confrontation tradition of the Church doesn’t do enough of. And if you think it does, it must so humiliate the national press, comedians and other wiseacres that they do not dare talk about it lest the multitudes see through their ruse. No, friends, we don’t do enough extra mile walking. (In case you did not know. If a Roman soldier asked a Jew to walk with him he would have to, but according to roman law, the roman could not ask him to walk more, hereby walking an extra mile might mean danger for the roman. Equally, one could be slapped, a sign of humiliation, but if one turned the cheek, the roman doing the slapping would have to use a closed hand, a sign of equality.)
But turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile are only the first two examples we are called to. The next example is found in verse 40 of the passage past down to us from St. Mathew in chapter 5. “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” This would mean standing in ones undergarments making a right naked farce of the selfish agenda of the secularists.
Nakedness is not what has been going on in our courts. We would do well to become naked. We would also do well to preach and proclaim love and grace, witnessing Jesus love as a church to those communities which are being used to justify the privatisation of faith. We need to proclaim Gods love for the gay community, just as we proclaim Gods love for all the other lost sheep, just as you and I. We cannot set barriers to the entry into Gods kingdom, only God can do that. If we set those barriers up, we are preaching a gospel of “fairness.”
We need to win the right to our liberty and we need to do so by using subversive love.
(Edit: please see Jonathan Chaplin’s very helpful and short article which summarizes much of what I was trying to get at in my own article over at Theos Current Debate)