Back in the early 80s, when I came to faith, the most common criticism of Christians in my demographic was that we were ‘do-gooders’. This wasn’t the only charge. If you found yourself at the pub with work friends on a Friday night (or at a party on Saturday night or a backyard BBQ on Sunday afternoon) there would be a barrage of jokes sprinkled with words like “wowser”. We were wowsers because we said we didn’t have sex before marriage; because we went to church instead of sleeping in; and because we didn’t smoke dope and drink that 3rd can of Tooheys New or XXXX.
We boldly affirmed that God is good and created sex. Jesus did good but he was no wowser.
In response, our apologetic was simple. We boldly affirmed that God is good and created sex. We proudly declared that Jesus turned 600 litres of Perrier into Don Perignon (or as I like to say, H20 to CH3CH2OH) and that he was often found at parties enjoying people with a shady past. Jesus did good but he was no wowser.
So, we were either do-gooders or wowsers. But at least the slurs were in some senses a compliment or at least in line with what we are supposed to be charged with. We were in some way like our Lord Jesus who ‘went around doing good.’ (Acts 10:38). The accusations at least made it sound like we were following the model set out by the apostle Peter:
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)
How quickly times have changed. As has often been said, we went from having a respected voice in the public square (to some extent) in the 50s, to being viewed as quaint and irrelevant in the 60s, to be narrow-minded and anti-intellectual in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and so on. Then almost overnight we became the enemy of all that is good.
We now went from a do-gooder to do-badder. We are still seen as anti-fun and anti-intellectual but we are also seen as anti-freedom, anti-love, anti-justice and anti-human. The world thinks we oppress, not liberate. They see us as the new slave traders who condemn people with our views on gender and sexuality. And, like some former slave traders in the past, we are seen as using the hate speech of the Bible to crush the vulnerable—allegedly, in some cases, causing LBGTI teenagers to suicide.
The world thinks we oppress, not liberate. They see us as the new slave traders who condemn people with our views on gender and sexuality
I, like many, find myself wrong-footed. This is a most unnerving angle of attack. It creates an unfamiliar kind of pressure. Siding with Jesus is now perceived as hating the vulnerable, condemning the marginalised and harming the powerless.
It takes me back to when I first decided to follow Christ in 1981. By siding with Jesus, I eventually left Catholicism. That decision caused my mum—who had loved me all my life—so much pain. She cried every day for 2 years. I didn’t mind my family being angry at me, but hurting my mum killed me. It caught me off-guard.
So, what is our response to this unique moment?
No Soft Landing
Let me begin by saying there is no soft landing. There are no easy answers no matter how many culturally insightful podcasts we listen to. Of course, we will try develop a winsome response and speak the truth in love. We will present both the suffering and the glory of our Lord from the Scriptures. Only he can change hearts. We will seek to live a life worthy of the gospel. We will apologise for the sins of the church. We will empathise with how hard it can be to live under the Lordship of Christ. We will love the person in front of us. We will teach with great patience and not demand instant transformation when we ourselves are works in progress. We will not apologise for the fact that God commands all people everywhere to repent.
But we need to remind ourselves of some important truths—including the truth that anyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted, and that God’s word can’t be thwarted and frustrated.
During the recent plebiscite, I sometimes found myself asking, ‘Could anyone from the LBGTI community ever become a Christian?’ Then God, in his kindness, rebuked me through a woman’s story from our church. She told me how a fellow English teacher at her high school (a lesbian) had said that, when she had heard this woman was a Christian, she immediately began building a wall—“but as I got to know you, and as I heard you share about Jesus, I’ve been wondering, ‘does your church run a course explaining Christianity?’”
I was so ashamed of myself for thinking that God’s purposes would in any way be hindered. Shame on me!
Let us be clear.
From heaven’s perspective, this new hostility will not make any difference. Not one less person will be saved this year on account of it. Those whom God foreknew and predestined he will call, justify, and glorify.
So hang in there brothers and sisters. Preach the word in season and out, whether they call you do-gooder, do-badder. Speak the truth in love, be wise in the way you act to outsiders with gentleness and respect and don’t be ashamed of our Lord.
Finally, learn from our brothers and sisters who have always lived as a persecuted minority around the world. I was recently preaching in a church situated in a very conservative Islamic city in Asia. After the sermon, we moved to the Lord Supper. In the middle of the prayer of humble access (affirming that we don’t trust in our own righteousness but in God’s great mercy) we heard the fourth call to prayer called the Maghrib from the mosque next door. Its speakers were aimed straight at the church.
It was so loud I was startled by the sheer intrusion. I lifted my head to see if anyone else was startled. They didn’t miss a beat. This was their normal—living in a culture that was unapologetically Muslim. It was so loud I could not hear anyone praying. Then I noticed that no one bothered to stop and wait for the call to pray to end. They just ploughed through the prayer declaring Christ’s death until he comes again. And in time, the call to prayer from the Mosque came to an end.
I learned that day from those lovely Christians what you do when you are overwhelmed by a dominant anti-Christian culture. You keep declaring Jesus Christ and him crucified, and you plough through to the end.