Here Come the Radical Christians!

I expect this post will receive more attention than usual so I’d like to be careful and clear in what I say and why I’m saying it. Firstly, I’m not trying to ride a media wave of disaster to get attention for my blog. I understand that in light of recent tragic and barbaric events, the world has become more nervous and fearful of religious groups, particularly those that don’t like to stay in their buildings. I understand that we want people to feel as safe as possible given the current climate of our times. I understand that people might take this the wrong way so please know that I’ve taken great care in writing this post to avoid that. I have no desire to disrespect anyone but I feel the need to both defend and clarify some things as I’ve been stirred to write this after reading an article about the removal of the university campus ministry of Freedom Church in Swansea and I’m concerned that this could be symptomatic of some bigger issues and a sign of things to come.

I have a lot of problems with this and it has made me quite angry for a lot of reasons but I’ll try to only express andpipe organ address a few of them without being harsh. First of all I think the word cult is thrown around too freely. The article seemed to want to attack this group and paint them as an evil and conniving force that has been banished and defeated but doesn’t really give reasons why. It seemed to just take everything they did and try to make it seem somehow deceitful or manipulative. “The group push out slick hype videos like the one below, which may be the only Christian cult video soundtracked with a drop.” Are Christians considered dangerous if they like well-made videos and dubstep music and don’t strictly love the familiar tones of good ol’ Sister Alma on the pipe organ?

I’d just like to highlight the fact that Christians are people. We have houses and jobs and children. We watch TV, we listen to the radio, we drive cars, go on dates and have Facebook. I feel the need to do that because the majority of Christians that get any media attention tend to be odd, fringe groups that either hate everybody and constantly let them know it or live in isolation and just seem so out of touch with where society is up to and those particular expressions get labelled and presented to the world as Christianity. Alternatively in movies and on television the Christians are the tired looking bunch who sit on long wooden benches and stand up to sing out of tune with the beloved Sister Alma and her ancient organ.

Christians aren’t just people whose parents were Christians and didn’t manage to escape in time. There are people becoming Christians everyday all around the world from all walks of life because they are becoming convinced that this guy Jesus is actually the  real deal, he actually loves them, he actually has power to bring freedom and healing into their lives and listening to him is actually the best way to live. People who love [insert musical genre of your choice] can become Christians. It’s really no surprise that they then want to play [reinsert musical genre of your choice] to their new favourite person Jesus!

suspicious-fryGoing back to the article, it kept referring to this cult-ish, predatory behaviour of Freedom Church but we never really found out who the supposed vulnerable members of society were. The university students who voluntarily came along to their campus meetings? When did it become evil and sinister to make people feel welcome and accepted in a new environment where they don’t know people? I think the consumerist culture (alongside other things) has so poisoned our belief in genuine goodwill that we’ve become wary of compliments and positive behaviour from strangers. We assume that strangers should be cold and distant and if they’re warm it’s only because they want something from us, not because they want us to benefit from something.

The use of the word “targeting” seems like one of the many attempts to make this group seem as deviously scheming as possible. Why is collecting people’s details considered TARGETING them? Why isn’t it “Well, if they had a good time, we can let them know what else we’re doing and where it is.” I think it’s that consumerism spirit again. I think it’s also because we’re already afraid and we’re imposing dark intentions on people based on negative experiences we’ve heard about or had…but mostly heard about.

As I said before, the recent and historical activities of religious groups, including the Christian Church have put the world on edge with words such as “extremist” and “radical” being heard by many of us everyday. When we’re scared, we want things to be as simple as possible because if we can wrap our minds around something, we feel safer and more in control. I get that. I do it too but I really want to discourage us from generalising out of fear. I can’t speak for all religions but I certainly know that Christians have some pretty diverse beliefs and practices while bearing the same name. We have a lot of internal issues among ourselves and we make a lot of mistakes. We may be a painfully dysfunctional one (we’re working on it) but we remain a family nonetheless. We don’t get to pick and choose our brothers and sisters because whoever comes to the Father through Jesus Christ becomes part of the family! I know that people calling themselves the Church have done awful things throughout history and even in modern times and I don’t make excuses for their behaviour. Instead I want to offer a little insight into what “radical Christianity” actually is and looks like.

You might know that this whole thing is about a man called Jesus (Christian means “Christ-like” or “little Christ”) who walked the earth round about 2,000 years jesus feetago and claimed to be the Son of God. He came bringing an urgent message of hope that spoke to the deepest need of humanity. He wasn’t a rich man but still he dedicated his life to serving the poor and marginalised and those in need. In dramatic, counter-cultural fashion he would sit and talk and eat with the outcasts who weren’t deemed “worthy” of social acceptance and he would love them, not from a place of superiority but from a place of abundance. He himself knew he was ultimately loved and so he was free to demonstrate love to those who needed it most. He was a teacher and would speak to crowds about lots of different things but he also taught a lot about what real love looks like.

In his most famous sermon he spoke about a life that serves people that hate you, gives to people who take from you, refuses to attack people who hurt you or judge people you disagree with.

Radical Christians are people who believe that even though He was killed for His claims, this Jesus rose from the dead and is alive now and has enabled and commissioned them to live this same life to be a gift from God to the rest of the planet. These are the Christians that get the least attention but they actually don’t care. They’re too busy loving people.

They love people because they’ve known a love that has brought them unspeakable joy and indescribable peace. They love people because they don’t see their love as finite but flowing from an infinite source, the very heart of God. They love people because in the life of Jesus they’ve seen the love of God for all people. All people. And they are desperate to share and demonstrate it.

So yes, they may wander onto university campuses to be nice to people. They might make slick dubstep videos, ask for your email address and invite you to church. You might see them chatting to homeless people and giving them food. You might find them working to liberate women from sex slavery or rescue trafficking victims. You might find them praying in the streets for people who have been hurt physically or emotionally. You might hear them sharing their story of how God has “saved them”. You might spot them taking someone else’s shift at work so that they can spend time with their family. You might see them sitting with the odd looking/smelling/dressing kid at school that nobody talks to. These are not all uniquely “Christian” activities but whatever they’re doing it’s probably going to look strange or bizarre in light of societal norms. It may come across as “pushy” or “preachy” and may look suspect to start with. I’m asking that you don’t let that scare you but that instead, you take a closer look.

Thanks so much for reading.

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6 thoughts on “Here Come the Radical Christians!

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  1. As someone who has been badly affected by this church I couldn’t disagree more. The targeting within this church is genuine and members are encouraged to write down the names of people who they are going to target for that week to get into church. They pray on vulnerable and lonely people, often with depression, and bring them in with false words. Very little of the ‘friendliness’ is genuine. They just want more people in church to blindly hand over 10% of their income as a ‘tithe’. I saw the light and left the church after I realised there was a lot of what was being preached that I did not agree with. Since then I have been abandoned by my friends and left high and dry, in a worse position that I started off in. And I know I’m not alone in this. I’m not leaving my name as I don’t want to be pursued.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience Anon, I’m glad you felt you could. I hope you don’t mind me replying a little 🙂
      First of all I’m sorry that that’s what you experienced in any church. Freedom aside, no one should be made to feel like a commodity anywhere especially in the Church. I know some people who are part of Freedom and I know them to be genuinely loving and genuinely friendly people which is part of why I felt the need to respond to the post. The main focus of my post however isn’t to defend Freedom Church (although that is a part of it) but was more about helping people to understand a little about some of the things Christians do that might appear strange or threatening. I agree that any church that targets people to get their money or boost their numbers has lost its way. Jesus is more concerned with people’s hearts. I don’t know whether we know each other or not but I hope that my post and this reply don’t come across as trying to invalidate what you went through. I’ve known people who’ve gone through similar experiences and I know your experience was painful. I know that it hurts the heart of God when we don’t represent Him well because it pushes people away from His love that He knows we desperately need. I don’t know if my words will hold any weight for you but can I please encourage you not to give up on God. Although you may feel as though people have given up on you, He really won’t. I’m sure you’ve heard it before but He really does love you. I do spend time wondering why He chooses people like me to tell people about Him. I mess it up and people get hurt.

  2. Dear Anon,

    I’m speaking from the outside without the benefit of your experience. I don’t know what you went through but you’ve clearly communicated that it has left you with a thoroughly negative opinion of the operating practices of Freedom church. I’m not from Swansea and have no links with Freedom Church. I do know some excellent people who go to a different church in Swansea but that may not interest you.

    I know Tony well and some of what I write here may seem critical of his (excellent) article but I’m pretty sure we’re on the same page here.

    I think it’s important for the church to accept that some of the things some of us do are not great. Some of what you (Anon) describe is sometimes crudely described from the outside as the “bait and switch” approach I.e. shower someone with kindness to get them through the door then after they are there come on very strong with a extremely forceful gospel message. I feel it can force people into two very extreme reactions which they feel they may have decide between very quickly:

    1. Run. Fast.
    2. Accept it. Join the group. It’s the only way to justify all this kindness and generosity you’ve just happily lapped us. And who doesn’t like having more friends in their life?

    Ultimately, I don’t think that it benefits either party in the long run. If you are being forced down some kind of spiritual trap then that is not a real faith based decision someone is making, and someone who takes decisions against that backdrop is likely at some stage to realise the position they were put in and feel duped. Very easy for resentment and bitterness to (understandably) grow at a point of realisation.

    I feel very strongly, that as Christians, we need to totally reject the thinking that we only spend time and develop friendships with people who we believe will eventually become Christians.

    If that’s how we operate we’re not really offering them friendship.

    We just see them as targets, even if we want to do them good. If we truly want to love others how about we ensure that the same level of engagement is evident after the point at which someone says, “No thanks” to that offer to come to church.

    That’s the point at which we truly become radical in my opinion.

    Not knowing any of the facts first hand, I don’t know if any of what I’ve said here truly applies to this situation in Swansea but I’ve witnessed what I’ve described first hand and even been guilty of it in the past. I’m not a big believer in regrets but let’s just say they are hard and not very nice lessons to learn, when you realise how you’ve acted in someone else’s eyes.

    In closing, and in reply to the Anonymous poster, I understand why you feel so hurt and betrayed, and also why you feel wary of people pursuing you. All I can say is, that’s not God’s way, and should you feel that at some point you are ready to try and find a different group of Christians to meet with, that I believe you will eventually find a true spiritual home.

    I wish you all the best in your journey.

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