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 and 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!
Going 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 ago 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.