But How Will They Know?
Far be it from me to argue with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who condemned this position at the weekend, but they are absolutely right. What are the requirements of the Christian faith? Helpfully, the prophet Micah: set it out for us in words of no more than two syllables: act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God (6:8).
Or if that has been superseded by the new covenant, let’s take Jesus’ command: love one another (which includes our enemies and those who persecute us). Against such things there is still no law.
So why do people want to wear symbols of brutal methods of execution around their necks? For some it is to remind themselves of the sacrifice Jesus made for them, that they might remain grateful and follow his example of love which gives itself even unto death. For others it is a way of quietly and subtly informing others of their faith in order to start conversations and ultimately, they pray, to point some to Christ. It is an aide-memoire and a conversation-starter, nothing more.
Being asked to remove it does neither your person nor your faith the slightest harm. It is not a talisman against evil nor a guarantee of your passage to heaven. Bad things are no more likely to happen to you while not wearing it, nor will God forget that you are His.
If you feel your freedom is compromised by not being allowed to wear whatever you choose whenever you choose, then you haven’t grasped what freedom is all about. Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Cor 3:17), Paul said, and this after he had been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He of all people was qualified to know what liberty and injustice were all about. We have been set free by the ultimate judge of all things; to fight for our rights in human courts is, to borrow a metaphor from CS Lewis, like demanding the right to make mud pies in a slum when we’re already on holiday by the sea.
But if everyone knows who the Muslims, Sikhs and orthodox Jews are in any given office or classroom, why shouldn’t Christians be allowed to advertise their presence, too? They are; and in a way that cannot be hidden in the darkest prison or stripped away on the most exposed cross. They’ll know we are Christians by our love; the kind of love that is generous to all without expecting return, that prays for those who persecute us and that forgives them even as they rejoice in our pain.
It is good and right for us to seek justice for those who are genuinely being persecuted, downtrodden and abused, but seeking special privilege for ourselves in a land where we already have great freedom to assemble, to worship and to speak publicly about our faith does no favours for either Christianity or Christ himself. We need to re-assess what victory looks like – it doesn’t consist in proving we are the strongest party in the dispute and thus deserve special treatment and honour – that is not what God has called us to or promised us. Victory consists in showing that whatever is thrown at us, we will respond with love, grace and forgiveness. We may be cut down, sidelined and even genuinely persecuted, but we believe in a different system of honours and in One who judges justly. In his Kingdom we find greater reward than any fleeting accolades this world can give, and blessings and privileges above and beyond any temporary ‘rights’ dreamed up by fallen man.
Let us walk humbly and love extravagantly. That is of far greater value than any outward symbol of our faith.