The baby Jesus had a Santa hat at our Nativity Play. It was good that Mary and Joseph had remembered it was Christmas, I had joked. The attempt at satirical humour had fallen flat.
Why bother to stand up for Jesus, anyway?
It makes little practical difference to conservative Christians or secular liberals whether or not the name of Jesus is treated with respect. The Christians can tell the liberals that they are damned and doomed to spend eternity in the lake of everlasting fire and the liberals can tell the Christians they are bigots and go shopping on Sunday morning and then to the pub. Everyone can live very happily with a stand off, each side congratulating itself on how right it is, assured in the fact that the others are wrong.
Conservative Christians are concerned that the name of Jesus be respected because of their religious sensibilities, and, possibly, because they fear their threat of damnation will not be taken seriously if blasphemy is considered a trivial matter. But there are other Christians of other shades of opinion for whom the name and the status of Jesus are equally a serious matter.
I visited the Philippines back in 2001. It had been ten years since my previous visit. I wanted to see how the tiger economy years had changed the country and whether greater prosperity had brought and greater degree of peace and justice.
Much had changed, and for the better, but there remained a huge level of grinding poverty and widespread social injustice. I visited the island of Mindanao, torn by inter-communal tensions and terrorist attacks. In a community where my Presbyterian companion and I were not allowed outside of the compound without escort and where one visit to a village necessitated plain clothes policeman as bodyguards as well as an army foot patrol, there were excellent development projects, projects that were empowering, sustainable and making a real, practical difference in people’s lives.
The agency behind the projects was the Catholic diocese, laity, religious and priests collaborating in a bias to the poor, not because they thought they should do so, but because in the Gospel Sunday by Sunday, there was a divine absolute imperative to do so.
The work in Mindanao is being replicated by churches in countless thousands of places around the world. The theological base for such work is one in which the names and commands of God and Jesus are taken seriously. I remember Desmond Tutu speaking in Belfast more than twenty years ago. Apartheid was a theological issue he said, because it was a blasphemy; people created in the image of God were not being treated with the respect God demanded.
I’m not really worried about conservative Christians, they have never been any friend to the Anglican tradition to which I belong. I am worried though when the relativism that pervades liberal thinking starts threatening to undermine the cause of peace and justice.
All opinions are not equal. Human dignity and human rights are not served by suggesting that everyone’s viewpoint counts. The Christian Gospel gives absolute worth to human beings, over and above all other considerations.
Denigrating the name of Jesus suggests that Christians have no more valid a position than anyone else. It suggests that Christians have no stronger mandate for their actions than have the logging companies, who would claim to provide work as they bring wholesale destruction to the environment, or the mining companies, who will trample on land rights and sacred places in the name of economic development.
Tread carefully, before you trash what some of us hold dear, for you tread on our dreams of a new heaven and a new earth.