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A reflection on the events on Capitol Hill 


The strange mixture of religion and politics in the US, and what it has to do with us here in the UK. By Michael Shaw


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I have attended many protests. Most recently (before lockdown) I attended several demanding action on climate change as a member of my local Extinction Rebellion group and Christian Climate Action. What marks these protests out is often a desire to peacefully change the Government's mind on climate change (we are non-violent), so that we see more immediate action. On many of the protest marches there has been music, dancing and often creativity. It has been fun. So I am not against the need to protest.

But over the last few days, images of people protesting have been splashed over new bulletins, websites and newspapers around the world. These were far from non-violent. There was violence, damage and death.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we do not know specifically why the crowds sang Hosanna to him. We don’t know what they expected him to do when he arrived in Jerusalem. (I personally love Mark’s account which says that he had a quick look around the Temple then went back to Bethany for the night; this seems to be the definition of an anti-climax.) I personally assume they were expecting him to lead a violent revolution, to overthrow the Romans. For just a few days later when the same crowd were asked who they wanted to crucify and who they wanted to set free, it was Barabbas a violent revolutionary, who walked free. Jesus went to the cross.

What changed the mind of the crowd? Maybe because they wanted Jesus to be violent revolutionary, and instead he seemed to have a different plan.

What has shocked me since is the reaction of many people whose twitter profile starts with “Christian”, who I see on social media in the comments sections of famous politicians and leaders. They still seem as angry and as wound up. They do not seem to think that what happened in Capitol Hill was wrong, they have not become less emboldened but more vitriolic. They still think that Donald Trump was robbed and that God is going to overturn the result. For them Trump is a Messiah (Eric Trump said his father had "saved" Christianity in America). Do they not realise that he is the kind of “Messiah” that Jesus warned us about?

Many of these Christians are convinced that they are a persecuted minority, that they are at the hands of a liberal media and a socialist democratic party that is set to destroy them. They have sold their soul to Trump, who has stirred those flames and they have listen to the voices of people like Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffries and Paula White, who have told them that he - and he alone - is on their side!

But what does the weird mixture of religion and politics in the US has to do with us here in the UK? Sadly many Christians have the same persecution complex as their US cousins. They think that the Government is planning to end their freedoms. It is stirred up by certain fringe groups, but more recently has become more mainstream with some pastors (and even ex-Prime Ministers) speaking out about the restrictions on physical church opening in debates on the November lockdown.

As a Baptist I am actually aware of the need to fight for religious freedom, but as a Baptist historian, I know that our heritage can traced back to Thomas Helwys. Helwys argued, quite rightly, that to fight for religious freedom is not to fight for MY right to practise religion but for ALL people to be free to practise their religion of choice. The lockdowns have not ever been attacks on the right to worship, as we saw fit, but a temporary measure to protect people from a deadly virus!

The sad thing is that there are Christian leaders who are getting on the persecution bandwagon, some even in order to increase their social media reach. There is an audience out there who are more ready to watch a Youtube video on why the church is under attack, than become part of healthy churches and discipled. Some are even leaving churches, because their church leader is not saying what they want to hear.

Why is this happening? The reason, from what I can see, is that we have not truly taught discipleship or modelled discipleship. We have made converts but not disciples, for whom Christianity is a personal experience of God, not an entry into a wider community of faith. Churches have made worship entertainment. There is no cost to worship, it is all laid on for people. There is no sense of offering in worship; the offering is a payment based on consumer satisfaction, like any form of monetary transaction. The challenge has been removed from teaching - people want a message that leaves them comfortable, not challenge their comforts! We have done this to make church more palatable - it is part of the church growth movement but it has left us with immature believers, not mature disciples.

Such believers are willing to be swayed by any teaching that fits into their immature world view. This means there are easy targets for people who say that they are being victimised, or that they are being persecuted. They have not been given the tools to realise that; firstly they are not being persecuted; and secondly, persecution is to be expected!

So while we may look on at America and wonder what they are playing at, we must remember the old phrase that when America sneezes, we catch a cold. We have to be very careful that we do not end up with our own Capitol Hill moment - supported and cheered on by Christians.

 

Top image | Getty embed
Thumbnail Image | Alejandro Barba | Unsplash

 


Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church in Plymouth



 

 


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Baptist Times, 11/01/2021
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