Christianity Is As Relevant As Ever: A British Political Candidate Speaks About His Faith
In Mark 16:15 of the New Testament, Jesus declared “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”, and it is fair to say that with some 2.2 billion adherents of Christianity worldwide, the gospel was indeed spread amongst the Earth from its beginnings in Palestine and Israel. Despite this, commentators in the media tell us (sometimes with a hint of glee) that church numbers are declining, and bluntly tell us that Christianity is no longer relevant in the 21st century. I believe they couldn’t be more wrong.
I was raised in a Christian family, and attended a Methodist church; my beloved Darley Dale Hillside. However, just before my teens, I stopped my weekly visits. I didn’t undertake a symbolic rejection of God by declaring myself an atheist, I just didn’t see Christianity’s relevance for myself anymore. I would attend the odd Christmas and Easter service, and until recently would answer questions about my faith with the most fence-sitting answer possible; “I’m a Christian, but leaning towards agnostic”. The truth is, I might as well have declared myself an atheist. It wasn’t until my Grandma’s death at the far too young age of 69 in 2011 that I began to face mortality more seriously. Cynics will tell me that in making my slow but steady path back to Christ after my Grandma’s death, I have merely been trying to seek comfort and reassurance. However, my journey since then has disproved that theory.
I won’t go into too much detail, but in the autumn of 2012 I joined a church at University in Manchester, and attended my old church back home again on a weekly basis, and proudly became a Christian again. It is the realisation since then, along with reading and studying the Bible again with fellow young Christians, that has shown me in plain sight that, whether you look at the spiritual side of Christianity (as I do) or not, of course it is still relevant. Peter Hitchens, a man whose political views are opposite to mine in almost every single way, summed up my argument excellently in a debate on Christianity at Oxford University; “I have to come up here and defend the religion of love, brotherhood, peace, justice, and turning the other cheek”. How are these aspects not desirable or relevant in society today?
For those who view Christianity as irrelevant, some try to incite it as a creed of hatred. I’m sorry, but I can’t accept this when my Lord taught “you have heard that it was said ‘love your neighbour, and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. Furthermore, one of my favourite verses from the Bible, and a good summation of its beautiful capacity for compassion, is when Jesus says “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another”. If everyone was able to carry out these acts, who could possibly say that things wouldn’t be better?
It’s a dangerous game to mix politics and religion, but too often people take examples of individual Christians who have perverted the religion, such as in the case of awful child abuse. These individual acts should rightly be criticised, but they are frequently used to attack Christianity as a whole. When it comes to issues in society that are of concern (rightly) such as poverty, the financial crash and welfare reform, you’ll find just as many priests, bishops and church leaders condemning injustice as politicians or those on the Left.
The tale of the Good Samaritan reinforces that, not to mention Jesus saying “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” for those who think that Christians subscribe solely to a Right wing agenda. For those who think that Christianity is just a religion for the righteous and pious, they couldn’t be more wrong; Jesus did “not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”. We know that we all make mistakes, and frequently chime in with “nobody’s perfect; everyone makes mistakes”. Christianity recognises this clearly, and many of its teachings’ foundations are built upon it.
Jesus went to meet the outcasts in society, whilst the Pharisees (teachers of the law) were sceptical and judgmental. There are outcasts in society today who are all too often ignored or frowned upon, or as former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe said of Liverpool, “should be abandoned into ‘managed decline’”. Jesus preached to these outcasts, and had compassion on them; would such an approach be a bad thing in the 21st century? The Old and New Testament urges believers to “pray for the fatherless and widows”, so Christianity does not reject single mothers as some people would have you believe.
The gay marriage bill in Parliament has often been used as a stick to beat Christianity with by those who think that Christianity doesn’t accept gay people, but 1 Timothy 2:4 preaches that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”; if He really hated gays, how would this statement hold true? It is very rare for an atheist to criticise Jesus personally; an atheist will often concede that he “was a good guy, with good ideas”. However, Christianity’s central focus is on Christ, who these atheists are not criticising. Likewise, it would be very difficult for anyone to find error in the Ten Commandments.
Suffering and pain are emotional subjects, and naturally have Christians on the back foot. Why would God allow suffering? It is a potent weapon for atheists. However, if you take God out of the equation, pain and suffering would still exist, and the outcome would be much worse; pain and suffering would be considered natural, and “tough luck”. With God in the picture, it is not natural, and against His intentions for the world. The Lord can empathise and have compassion on those who suffer; Jesus walked on the Earth as a human, and felt more pain than any other despite doing nothing wrong. The rebuttal to atheists is obvious; why would you want to live in a world where death is the end, where the dead stay dead, and suffering is just a natural fact of life with no hope of a better outcome?
That question was a big factor, after my Grandma’s death, in me returning to faith. I prefer this option; “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4). I confess that I’ve had great difficulty with certain passages such as Leviticus, and can understand why others would have difficulty with it, too. However, by using these passages as a weapon, many people detract from what is really important in Christianity. After all, ‘Old Testament’ really translates as ‘Old Covenant’, and whilst it still contains scriptures of importance, it is looking to the New Testament which is really important.
I’m no theologian, and I hope I haven’t come across as too judgmental. I think it is perfectly relevant, and right, to believe in loving one another and “forgiving those who trespass against us”, as I too need the incredible capacity for forgiveness in the Bible, for those who I have wronged in thought and deed. I’m disappointed in myself that I let my faith lapse for so long, but having attended church regularly at home and University (along with student Bible study at University), I wouldn’t have it any other way now. I do my best to keep my faith and my views on politics separate, but when it comes to concern for the poor, compassion, how we treat one another, justice and peace, I believe that Christianity is more than relevant to addressing and tackling these questions; perhaps it is politics that is inadequate at dealing with these issues.
I’ll finish this entry with a passage which could easily be considered beautiful poetry by a modern author, and which I defy anyone who doesn’t think it is a wonderful piece of literature, or indeed relevant. As it so happens, it is taken from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
(Read more from LibDemBen at his blog Views from the Centre-Left)