Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More questions than answers

So to recap, Christians should submit to authorities, pay their taxes and are only able to break the law when it would mean sinning. I suggested that it's the role of government to be the conscience of society, and Christians concerned to restrain evil should play their part in government by standing for office and by voting. These things seem fairly clear.

But, is there any ground for going to court? Any reason to appeal to the authorities? Various reasons seem to be used like...

1. In Acts we see Paul appeal to his Roman Citizenship which means he'll be transported to Rome. That spared him a beating and helped fulfill his ambition to preach in Rome. That seems to be an example of using a priviledge that the law had for him - but time and again before this he was abused by authorities without complaint. How did he decide which way go pursue it? Are there equivilants today? What would constitute the right situation today? Churches or mission teams prevented from being led by Christians? Chrisians denied the right to congregate or preach? International law secures such things so if they're denied us should we not appeal? I can see some ground to appeal on matters that are essential to the advance of the gospel and the existence of the church.

2. The other logic at work today is this: "We have the legal right to express our faith so we should fight for that - Muslims can wear things, shouldn't we also?" Hence the silver ring thing. But here's the thing, a Muslim may be able to justify wearing certain clothing but where exactly in the Bible are Christians given the right or need for external symbols?
This is better than what I'm going to write at the moment >
Adrian Reynolds on the tarnished ring thing.
The Silver Ring Thing court case infuriates me for at least two reasons - firstly, it bring disrepute on the gospel by implying that we need trinkets (whether rings or crucifixes) to show our purity or beliefs - I'd been led to believe that the work of the Holy Spirit was the mark of being a Christian. And secondly, it wastes vast kingdom resources that could be used to feed the poor or set aside an evangelist for a year.

In an individualistic culture I can't help thinking that we should be laying down our rights, while everyone else clambers for theirs. And if we want to fight for rights should we not fight for the rights of others too? Would the testimony of the gospel not be better advanced by Christians allowing ourselves to be wronged and going on living impeccably? Wronged by the system but committed to loving the world.

I can't help but recall the occasion when the (much maligned) Pure course was double-booked with a protest against it... the students running the course fed the protesters breakfast, and then move out of the room to let them use it. That feels like the right approach to be using as the world begins to flex it's muscles against us.

12 comments:

  1. Is this relevant to your money project:?

    http://davidpfield.blogspot.com/2007/07/wages-and-support-of-christian-workers.html

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  2. Thanks Chris. That is helpful and merits being read by many.

    You gonna blog again anytime.

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  3. Dave,

    I'm not convinced that we are showing historical or cultural 'smarts' if we roll over and allow some of the deepest human freedoms to be given up. Namely the right to express your religious beliefs openly in public.

    This always happens slowly, historically speaking. It is the way of the world, because evil is subtle and intelligent. Little changes, little modifications.

    It isn't just the ring on the finger some girl. It's the issue of religious freedom, and we need to show that we can be reasonable but yet firm.

    I'll go on the record here and predict that within the next 15-20 years in the UK, an attempt will be made to radically restrict our ability to talk about or publish material that supports or 'glorifies' certain or absolute religious knowledge.

    The longer we can fight the tide, of secularism, the longer we will be able to do gospel work as freely as we can now.

    I would be seriously tempted to see these infringements on our religious freedoms to be part of this larger agenda, and as such be willing to make a careful, considered stand against them.

    Having said all that, it looks very reasonable to ask someone to conform to a pre-existing dress code. However the effect of rolling over and letting it go does not mean that the effect is limited to the school yard.

    Tom

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  4. Thanks for the thoughts Tom. I guess I'm saying I'd defend anyone's right to express their religious beliefs. What I actually object to here is people doing it in the name of Christ when what they're fighting for isn't something Christ requires.

    If this girl went to court as a Silver-Ring-Thingian then fine. It's saying using the defence that 'you should let me wear it because I'm a Christian' that I really struggle with. The Spirit's work in me is the only symbol I need isn't it?

    That said, I do think a society where there is freedom of expression about religion and most other things is better for people than one without, so as a human being I'd want to support that.

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  5. Tom,
    I think you make some very valid points there. It just seems these days that some people are very quick to fight and because I don't know their hearts, I don't the reasons why they do so.

    I see in the bible the stuff in Acts and undeniably there are times when we need to stand up for the 'rights' society has given us, but there are also times in the bible where we see people (Paul, Jesus) lay down their rights for the sake of the gospel, and that be of great gain to the gospel as people suffer. I guess I think of 1 Peter 3 in that as well.

    And I suppose my question is how we know when we should assert our rights and when we shouldn't?

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  6. eek. "And I suppose my question is how we know when we should assert our rights and when we shouldn't?"

    that'll be the other question on the blog over the last week!!

    In the current climate where we've seen several cases heading to the courts I do think we need to give serious consideration to the possibility that we should submit to the authorities and let ourselves be wronged.

    Certainly there are times to appeal, but the NT witness seems to say there are also many occasions to get punched and not fight back.

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  7. I agree with the framing of the question. We start to detect between cases where we should fight and cases where we shouldn't fight using argument and discussion. Our wider political involvement, then is essential. You should know who your MP is. You should be praying for CARE and supporting their work, however you can.

    This will open up, as far as is usually possible, the issues and implications. This is our parlimentary process. When it is subverted, EG. middle of the night rushed through legislation (as we saw with the gay adoption bill), it doesn't work properly. When the media try to influence it. This is why the House of Lords is so useful, too as an important check on the House of Commons. It's not perfect, but the best we have at the moment. And it's good to have the Judicial system as a further check.

    Dave, what is your way of detecting cases where we should stand up and be counted and cases where we should let it go?

    Interesting, on a not wholly unrelated side note. The BBC write up of the trial of the Muslims convincted of incitement and glorification of terrorism after the cartooon protests in London made a bad slip, which gives us a glimpse into the deeper situation.

    The Judge, Brian Barker said their words had been designed to encourage murder and terrorism.

    The BBC caption under the photo said, 'Javed, Muhid, Saleem and Rahman had denied holding extremist views.'

    It's a small difference. Between 'encouraging murder and terrorism' and 'holding extremist views' but it is a big difference.

    It's my view that we should all understand why we should fight to preserve the freedom to hold 'extremist views' while continuing to uphold the legislation that prevents people using this freedom to incite or glorify terrorism as a political stratergy.

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  8. Hmm.

    Perhaps there is a difference between two threads and we should separate things a bit...

    1. Fighting for freedom and a society that runs on a way that is good for people, which is informed by the Bible - as we seek to restrain the effects of the fall and sustain people who, fallen, are in the image of God. In this Christians might stand and fight for the rights of others... e.g. to wear religious symbols though we don't require such freedom ourselves.

    2. The way that freedoms that are being eroded effect us. And so we contend for existing law to be applied fairly to ourselves.

    As for my own approach to distinguishing between cases. A work in progress. Hence I'm exploring it on-blog.

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  9. I have long struggled with this question (symbols etc.).

    I wonder what the advice of St Paul would have been. In this climate of pluralism and 'anything goes', might it be important for Christians to find ways of looking distinctive like Muslims do?

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  10. Welcome back Matthew,

    Can't remember him teaching about wearing symbols in the most pluralistic place he went too, i.e. Athens.

    I'm 100% convinced that it's the Spirit producing changed life that is the only symbol we need to be wearing. Put on Jesus - that'll mark us out very distinctively.

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  11. I can agree with that but I think the question really is:

    How obvious is that (really) to those who we meet every day?

    Or do we start with the "Hi! I'm a Christian." conversation?

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  12. I'm not saying they will know we're Christians by seeing us - that will need words - but there should be something visibly different. If a girl wants to be pure because she's a Christian she should live it rather than wear a ring to try and prove it.

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