It never ceases to amaze me how quickly some Christian groups resort to picketing whatever seems to offend their sense of orthodoxy. Whenever there is something going on in society that doesn’t fit with the orthodoxy of their faith, they feel directly and personally offended. One example of this is the play “Jesus, Queen of Heaven” by Jo Clifford, a transsexual woman. Read about it in this Herald article! Of course, one may argue that the play is bad quality art, as The Scotsman suggests, but that is not the issue I want to discuss here. The issue I wish to raise is how Christians react publicly when they feel their faith is questioned or even mocked by others.
Let it be clear that I’m not defending the play in any way. I haven’t seen it, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s say it is indeed offensive to Christians. I want to talk about the reaction of Christian groups to the play, which I find seriously problematic from a biblical stand point. When I look at the life of Jesus, and the life of the church portrayed in the New Testament I can find nothing to support such outlandish behaviour in the name of the church.
One placard that caught my attention was ‘Jesus, King of Kings, Not Queen of Heaven’. If you want to defend orthodoxy, by all means do it in church. That’s where it belongs, even if we could discuss how this should be done in a spirit of love and compassion. However, we are not called to judge and condemn those outside of the church – 1 Cor. 5:12. It’s funny to me how Bible worshippers always manage to ignore the Bible in the process of condemning others. I guess this is the punishment for worshipping a written text instead of a living God, but that’s another discussion.
I was talking about this incident with a church fellowship group of around 25 in the south of Glasgow last Sunday night. A woman asked me how should we respond to a television programme that offends our faith. Shouldn’t we call to tell them we protest because we’re offended? If we don’t call and protest, wouldn’t people think we don’t care or we don’t exist? Good questions. Another woman asked the same kind of questions, mentioning that Jo Clifford criticised the church for being too judgemental and lacking in compassion.
There are two major issues here:
1. I urged the group to look at these questions from the point of view of how Jesus dealt with his enemies. His instruction was clearly that we love our enemies. The commandment to love our neighbour doesn’t come with a disclosure if the neighbour offends our faith – “Love your neighbour as yourself, but if he offends your faith, picket his house!”. We’re not excused from love when we’re offended or persecuted, if we want to say we follow Christ. The church is seriously enamoured with power. I cringe when I hear Christians say: “This is a Christian country!”, because it means we’re in power and we call the shots; we will eliminate anyone who is against us, or at least we’ll picket them ’till they’re blue in the face. We were not called to wield power, we were called to love wastefully. (Also, a little suffering and persecution goes a long way to refocus our calling.)
2. Whenever we express ourselves publicly as the church, we have to be very, very careful how we come across to non-believers, as well as believers. Are we, by our actions, seen as a loving, compassionate community of people who focus on restoration, inclusion and empowerment of the weak and marginalised, or are we seen as orthodox bullies who will do anything to seize power (political and/or religious) and force people to believe and be just like us?
So how shall we react, as the woman I mentioned asked me? First of all, we shouldn’t react. A reaction comes from the gut; it is aggressive and irrational. We do sometimes need to respond, however. A response is different to a reaction, because it is well thought out, and sensitively crafted. Or so it should be.
Instead of playing the offended victim who protects its own rights, I would rather the church expressed its compassion towards people who go through untold pain and confusion when they discover they are the wrong gender, and feel trapped in their own body. The truth is that few of us know what that feels like. I have no idea what a person feels when they discover they are not attracted to the opposite sex, but to people of their own gender. Instead of being judgemental towards them, we should express our compassion and love for them, even when that is hard and we suffer from homophobia. I wish the church would be known for its compassion and inclusion, rather than for its judgemental reflexes. I’d rather be known for being loving, rather than for being right.
Also read this interesting article by Rev Peter Johnston, the Minister of St Andrew’s Blantyre!