Sunday, November 11, 2012

Who are your heroes?

I am increasingly seeing the word hero used to refer to those in the armed forces. The logo of Help for Heroes appears everywhere. I’m sure they do good work among ex-service personnel, and I have no doubt these people need help – the numbers of ex-army in particular who end up homeless, in prison, or with mental illness, is simply shocking. But the assumption that people in the armed forces are inherently worthy of the title ‘hero’ seems to be to be a serious travesty.

For a start, while they certainly do a difficult and sometimes dangerous job, are they any different in that respect from the police, or coal miners, or those who working A&E? Do we automatically treat them as heroes?

It also begs the question of what we find truly heroic. Is it heroic doing your job, risking your life, to look after your friends, your country, your people? Sometimes. But they’re doing a job they have chosen, doing what they are told, looking after their own friends. At the end of the day, they sign up knowing that, should the situation arise, they will have to kill or be killed. As Jesus simply said, ‘all who draw the sword will die by the sword’ (Matthew 26:52b).

Far more admirable, in my opinion, are those people who have the bravery to stand up against their friends, those with the moral courage to stand alone in the face of public opinion and approbation, those with the strength of character to refuse to do what they are told in full knowledge of the consequences. People like my aunt, who as a young school child refused to pledge allegiance to a flag. Like my grandfather who refused to go to war in an era when serving in the military was not an option. Like my grandmother’s cousin who married the man she loved despite the fact that he was Japanese, this was just after the war, and they had to drive all the way across the country to find a state where such a marriage was even legal. In the forces you fight with your friends beside you. It’s much harder to stand alone, and I respect anyone with the bravery to so, even if I don’t actually agree with them.

And that’s the kind of heroism I aspire to. That’s why so many of my heroes are uncomfortable characters, why during the Olympics I had a photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on my desktop. That’s why I’ve rarely been so proud of my son than when his reception teacher commented that he was the one child in the class who was willing to question her when she said something he thought wasn’t right – and why I’ve rarely admired a teacher more, because she said this as a point of praise. That’s why I’m writing this on Remembrance Sunday, the day when the country unites to worship and glorify figures of violence while I still long to praise the God of peace.

And there’s another kind of heroism that, in all this praise for military figures, gets forgotten. We can easily praise those who are heroic by doing exceptional things in exceptional circumstances. But it’s too easy to forget the every day heroism of people for whom even waking up at the start of the day and still being there at the end of it is an act of heroism greater than I can ever comprehend. Those suffering bullying or abuse, chronic illness, depression or other mental illness. No-one will ever sing their praises for what they do, but they deserve it far more than most people with guns and uniforms.

So pardon me if I don’t follow the line of Help for Heroes. I have heroes of my own who are far more deserving, and in far more need, of my help.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Enemy Within

The Truth is rarely palatable.

Over the past few decades evangelical churches in America have been systematically infiltrated by people peddling a right-wing political agenda that is utterly anti-Christian. The vast swathe of teaching both by Jesus and the Old Testament prophets on social justice has been concealed and its outworking derided as “communist”; despicable and utterly unbiblical teachings such as the “prosperity gospel” with its false identification of material wealth with God’s blessing, and the ridiculous idea that taxation is theft (directly contrary to Matthew 22:15-22), have been introduced in their place. The churches’ voice on “moral issues” has been narrowed to a select handful of areas which have no personal impact on the wealthy individuals driving the right-wing agenda and about which Jesus had nothing or next to nothing to say, while the vast majority of His teaching on the matters that are closest to God’s heart have been swept under the carpet. It is just as Jesus said: “You blind guides, you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24)

Clearly this is a bad thing because it has led to Godly people being duped into supporting bad politics. But it is far worse because it has led to compassionate people outside the church being fed a false (and utterly unattractive) view of God. It’s hard to find anything that is more despicable and more condemned in scripture than driving people away from God by painting such an utterly false picture of Him.

This has become all the more apparent in the recent presidential election in America. During the campaign respected Christian speakers keen to endorse the Republican Mitt Romney were even willing to sideline the divinity of Christ (having previously been utterly outspoken against the Mormon faith). In its aftermath the Evangelical Christian commentator and worship leader Vicky Beeching was vilified for daring to say that she was pleased that Obama won.

Well no more. As with the “confessing churches” during 1930s and 1940s Germany, those of us who truly follow Christ must not allow ourselves to remain a silent minority. It must now be a priority for all Christians to expose these evil teachings and preach against them.

But we should not be preaching against individuals. People are never the enemy, only the battleground. We should be preaching the words and deeds of Jesus, allowing his light to illuminate the darkness that has engulfed so many churches.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). That is the message Jesus proclaimed at the start of his ministry, and that is what America needs to hear from Him now.