Jesus – more divisive than Brexit or Trump

Every so often I record a short ‘thought’ for the Tendring Talking Times. My previous thought is available here.

There is a huge amount of division in society at the moment. The biggest culprit is of course Brexit – friends have fallen out with each other over this one. I personally have lost friends over this issue – some people see me as now being ‘beyond the pale’ because I hold a different opinion to them. Similarly, our friends across the Atlantic in America have a divisive figure in Donald Trump: people seem to either love him, or love to hate him. Division is everywhere you look!

Jesus had something to say about division – and not what you would expect. He said:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
‘“a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law –
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”
Matthew 10:34-36

Jesus says here that he is more divisive than Donald Trump, more divisive than Brexit. He even divides families. How so? Because ultimately humanity is divided not into Brexiters or Remainers, or any political division – but rather into those who accept Jesus Christ and those who do not. Jesus himself as a divisive figure – some people loved him, but many hated him even to the point of nailing him to a cross.

Jesus said that to follow him was taking up your cross – to always be at odds with the world, including even one’s own family. The battle is even inside us as we seek to put to death within us that which is sinful. Christians are never promised a life of ease, but rather a life of taking up one’s cross and dying to sin as we rise to new life in Christ.

As Jesus says elsewhere in the same chapter, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.” If Jesus caused division and caused people to hate him, those who follow him will also find the same.

However, this is not a reason to despair and to doubt – it is a sign of God’s favour. Think of Jesus’ famous words in the Beatitudes: “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Those who stand up for Jesus, who stand up for righteousness, can expect persecution in today’s world. However, this is not a cause for concern but a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus is a divisive figure – as he always has been. We are living in days when it is becoming increasingly difficult to follow him in public life. And yet we know that when we encounter opposition for Jesus’ sake we are pleasing our Father in heaven.

Those who persevere to the end, those who take up their cross and follow Jesus, no matter how hard it is, will be inheritors of eternal life. In Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea from Rev 3, he says: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Those who persevere to the end, those who do not give up in the struggle, now enjoy the favour of God and will sit on the throne with the Lord Jesus and be with him forever.

As George Duffield put it in his hymn, Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus:

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
the strife will not be long;
this day the noise of battle,
the next the victor’s song.
To him that overcometh
a crown of life shall be;
he with the King of glory
shall reign eternally.

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Brexit, politics, and counterfeit gods

_90076860_thinkstockphotos-526561176Every so often I am asked to contribute a short piece to end our local spoken news service – the Tendring Talking Times. This was my contribution for this week.

It seems like the world is going mad at the moment. The Brexit vote a few weeks ago triggered an avalanche of bad feeling in the country and exposed a deep rift in our society. Politics is becoming increasingly polarised: it seems that it is now almost impossible for people to respect someone with a different political opinion, let alone think they are a decent moral person. We don’t just disagree with people who have a different political persuasion; we think they are actually immoral. Something similar is happening in the USA with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – the country is divided over which political leader to support.

People seem to understand that there is something wrong with society, something wrong with our world, and they believe that these problems need political solutions. Some people believed that the right thing for Britain was to stay in the European Union – that things will all go downhill from now on. Other people believed that the right thing was to leave the European Union – it was the country’s only hope for a better future.

From a Christian perspective, all of these beliefs suffer from the same root problem: hope is placed in political leaders and policies when that hope should be reserved for God alone. I have just finished reading a book called ‘Counterfeit Gods’ by Tim Keller, a pastor from New York, and he puts it like this:

When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful for the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel.

To ascribe to mankind what should be reserved for God alone is what the Bible calls idolatry – worshipping the created rather than the Creator. In the book Keller goes on:

Another sign of idolatry in our politics is that opponents are not considered to be simply mistaken, but to be evil. After the last presidential election, my eighty-four-year-old mother observed, “It used to be that whoever was elected as your president, even if he wasn’t the one you voted for, he was still your president. That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.” After each election, there is now a significant number of people who see the incoming president as lacking moral legitimacy. The increasing political polarization and bitterness we see in U.S. politics today is a sign that we have made political activism into a form of religion.

Although Keller is writing about the situation in the USA, I believe he could equally be writing about Britain today: we have turned politics into a god and placed all our hopes in our political leaders and ideas.

In contrast, the Christian faith does not allow us to demonise or to deify any created thing. Nothing human, no person or political idea, is the cause of all our problems or the solution to them. The Bible is clear that the root of the human problem is not political but what it calls sin: as St. Paul puts it, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

The biggest problem the human race has is sin, and it is a universal problem which cannot be solved by political leaders: it is a spiritual problem. A spiritual problem has to have a spiritual solution, and that solution is found only in Jesus Christ. St. Peter says about Christ, “He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”.

The biggest issue of the human race is not political in nature but spiritual: we are sinners. But Christ himself bore the penalty for our sin on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. That is the kind of salvation that we all need.

Brexit and the decline of Christian understanding

The last few days I have felt particularly ashamed to be British. Not because the country voted to leave the EU, but because of the backlash following it. I appreciate that many people felt deeply unhappy with the result – it’s natural and understandable. Many people believed that leaving the EU was the wrong decision. No problem. People thought the opposite and felt equally strongly about it.

No, what got to me instead was some of the mocking characterisation of ‘Brexiteers’ – xenophobic, racist and ignorant “Little Englanders”.

A few years ago, in one of the comedian Chris Addison’s shows, he made the point that ‘Eurosceptic’ was wrong – because ‘sceptic’ implied that people had actually bothered to think about it. I think this is a good example of the kind of tone used on Facebook and the like recently: not always offensive, but generally implying that those who voted leave were lesser people, somehow.

It really makes me think of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

This seems to me to get to the heart of a lot of what is going on with moaning about Brexiteers. ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – racists, xenophobes, ignoramuses – and especially not like this Brexiteer. I voted for Remain and I don’t want to sacrifice the futures of all our children for no good reason.”

The other night I had something of an epiphany: it seems to me that people who moaned about Brexiteers actually believed they were morally superior. It’s easy to treat someone else badly when you believe they are morally in the wrong (and you are in the right) – after all, they deserved it, right?

I think this attitude is linked with the decline of Christian understanding and morality in our culture. I believe that people growing up in decades past would have grown up with the language of the Book of Common Prayer – believing that mankind are “miserable offenders” and “there is no health in us”. Even people who didn’t regularly go to church would have had something of this attitude ingrained.

This has a big effect on how we see other people: if we believe that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – then if someone else gets something wrong, something of a moral nature, then they are still fundamentally no different to us: all are human beings, all are flawed, and the only hope is the grace of God which cannot be earned – only accepted.

On the other hand, if there is no Christian understanding of humanity, then I think you end up with what we’ve just seen: people who think differently are actually perceived as morally deficient in some way. Worse than that, they are wilfully morally deficient. They should try harder and stop being morally deficient, and in the meantime we’ll treat them with disdain and contempt until they realise how morally deficient they are and change.

I wrote about this in November last year when I talked about Bigotry and legalism in our culture. That was in the context of same-sex marriage, but I think the same could be said of Brexit.

If we want to learn to disagree well, I think we have to recover a truly Christian ethic: those on different sides of a divide like this are both human, both made in the image of God, and yet both flawed. Neither is infallible. Both are in equal need of God’s mercy. If by the grace of God we are able to see others in that way, perhaps we’ll be able to make positive progress. But until then I fear for the direction of political discourse in this country.