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Questions of Faith 3

Continued from here.

Should there be blasphemy laws?  Who should they protect?

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Sometimes when people find out I’m a clergyman halfway through our conversation they clap their hand to their face and say something like, “Sorry for the swearing.”  And honestly I don’t care one little bit if you’ve turned the air blue with a tirade that would make a sailor blush.  Really, I could care less.  But if you use the name of my Lord who bled and died for me as a swear word – that pains me a great deal.  I don’t care about your morality, I don’t care about ‘clean language’, but I do get offended when the Prince of Peace is dragged through the mud.  I think blasphemy matters.  I think it’s wrong.  But what should be my response?  Call the cops?  Sue you?  Take you to court?  When you speak against my God, to whom should I appeal?  The state?

While other Christians may disagree with my position, I think it’s one thing to call blasphemy a sin, it’s quite another to call it a crime.  Yes it’s wrong.  But it’s not wrong because it’s against the laws of the land.  And I’m not an advocate for getting the state involved here.

How should we react when Christ is blasphemed?  Well Romans 2:24 is an eye-opener.  Paul (a former blasphemer himself, 1 Tim 1:13) reflects on both Isaiah and Ezekiel and says: “God’s name is blasphemed among the nations because of you [people of God!]”  Why is there blasphemy?  Not because of those blasphemers – those wicked heathen.  Because of you – God’s own people.  It’s the way God’s people have acted that’s led to the blasphemy.  So perhaps our first response to blasphemy should be to come before Jesus and confess our part in bringing dishonour to His name.

Secondly we should respond with Christ-like grace.  In the face of a false portrayal of Christ, answering that with cheek-turning Christians will be the best portrayal of Christ possible.  This rarely happens though.  When Stewart Lee and Richard Herring wrote Jerry Springer the Opera they portrayed Jesus in breath-takingly and deliberately offensive ways.  Of course Christians can get offended by that (they’re meant to!).  Of course they can complain when their license fees are used to fund it.  But from the hate mail Lee and Herring received from Christian protestors, there was another false and offensive Jesus being portrayed.  The way the blasphemy was answered by some Christians was not Christ-like and was therefore itself blasphemous.

At this point some Christians will complain that I’m advocating a soft policy that will make Christianity an easy target for ridicule.  But of course the same argument is always used against ‘turning the other cheek.’  Yet still, it’s what Jesus commands.

The whole world was waiting to see how the Muslim world would react to the Danish Mohammed comics.  Those who reacted violently confirmed every fear the comic was based upon.

The whole world also looks to Christians to see how we will respond.  Undoubtedly the blasphemies which Christians have to put up with are hugely greater than anything Muslims have to endure.  But the world is watching.  And there is, on some level, an expectation that Christians will react differently.  There is an expectation that forgiveness will be part of our response.  And that’s a good thing.  I realise that some Christians say “That’s the problem, these iconoclasts target Christianity because they know we’ll put up with things others never would.”  Well yes.  But that weakness is precisely our strength.  May we go on being the only group on the planet that can actually handle ridicule and answer with grace.  Because that’s how Jesus handled the blasphemies that were hurled at Him.  And the only way to answer false portraits of Christ is to show them true Christ-like grace.

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Once again, I'd love to hear your thoughts, corrections, additions...

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0 thoughts on “Questions of Faith 3

  1. Paul Huxley

    Blasphemy, blas for you (to quote Eddie Izzard).

    I guess it all hangs on whether blasphemy is a crime, as well as a sin. In Israel's law it is a sin and a crime so we need to think properly before writing that off. What is different about the way a modern state should be today, that stops it being right for blasphemy to be a crime? (the penalty issue is another, slightly more complex issue)

    Of course, we're talking about ideals here, rather than reality...

    Also, every culture has its blasphemy laws. Now we have 'incitement' laws which, at least in application, protect certain groups and not others.

  2. Rich Owen

    Hi Glen,

    I like all your points so far. No correction as such, but just to say... you'll need to be able to articulate those points in like 30 seconds. You don't want to get cut off halfway through. Media LOVES pithy and will love you if you are pithy.

    Praying that it goes well for Jesus on Weds.

    Rich

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  4. Si

    Paul, the thing with Israel is that it was Church and State together and so we have the death penalty instead of excommunication and stuff like that. No modern state is equivalent, though obviously there's Islamic states that try to run the same way where there's no difference between ecclesiastical and civil authorities.

    The (toothless and completely unenforced) blasphemy law currently in existence is because of the Establishment of the CofE, and much church law is also state law. It is limited as to who can offend: a small subset of the population - I can't remember if it's signed up members of Anglican churches or even just those under Canon Law like churchwardens and ordained ministers.

    And yes, we have other blasphemy laws, brought in with the idea of incitement to hatred and hate speech and so on. Likewise you have many countries in Europe where Holocaust denial is a criminal offence. In the UK, we have some of the freest speech in the world, though that's been watered down. America's pretty much unique first amendment protects against any kind of blasphemy law, but many are pushing (on the right for flag burning, on the left for all sorts, including flag brandishing) for some sort of blasphemy law.

  5. Paul Huxley

    Si, sure. Poythress' Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses is a useful guide to thinking along those lines.

    However, all law is an imposition of morality; under a Christian-run government (which the question implies), one has to expect the population to behave like Christians (eg. no murder, no theft). What's to say this couldn't/shouldn't be extended to blashpemy?

    Certainly, Israel was both church and state; I'm not convinced that we copy that now. But why do you put blasphemy in the ecclesiastical category rather than the civil category?

    I don't have the answer, I'm not sure quite where to put it. I just don't think it's right to write it off without serious thought (it would be a theological novelty to do so, since all Christian civilisations in the past have had blasphemy laws, afaik).

  6. John B

    I echo Rich Owen's comment and consider his to be very sound advice from what I've seen in these kind of media forums.

    Blessed are the pithy. For whosoever has abundant pith shall be rewarded with added airtime for his pithiness. At least this is how it seems to me, as in the events that I've seen, there hasn't been any formal time keeping. Pithy statements are taken note of, and those who make them seem to get more time to elaborate.

    For example, QoF #1 is a wonderful post—a real keeper, which I've shared already. It addresses two related questions. In the first, "Is homosexuality wrong?", you write in the concluding paragraph, "...homosexuality is like an eating disorder. It’s a disordering of a person’s relationship to sex, the way anorexia is a disordering of a person’s relationship to food." This is a great analogy and a real eye-opener! I'd start with this as my leading statement! Let this be heard at least, and I suspect that they'll then want to know more!

    Likewise, in the second question, "What is your position on Gay Marriage?" You pose the question, "...why ‘three blokes, a dolphin and the Eiffel Tower‘ isn’t also a ‘marriage.’" That's a great question! I'd like to hear this as a statement and the lead-in!

    Both of these highlighted statements are Twitter-sized. I'd lead with the "Tweet" and elaborate with the "blog".

    Just my two-cents worth from only an audience member perspective.

    Muhammad Ali famously described his boxing style as "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." It was a poetic description, but in actual practice in the ring I think that he was first the "bee" and then the "butterfly".

  7. Glen

    Thanks for the tips on pithiness. Definitely my hope is to hone this stuff down. First I splurge, then I publish, then I find out what I think. Later I can summarize! I may just prepare 30 secs on each question if I get time before tomorrow night. (And they probably won't ask anything even remotely similar!)

  8. Rich Owen

    John is dead right. Starting with the tweet is killer media skill.

    Actually, its not unlike Jesus' parables. An enticing, brief story, sharp, curious... those who have ears to hear press in - they are hooked and want to know more. Those who are always hearing but never perceiving walk away and bluster on their blogs about how impossible you are.

    Rich

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