The church isn’t always very Christian. Rowan Williams led a march to say sorry for slavery because churchmen were once so blind to equal rights under God that they profited from the blood, humiliation and misery of other human beings (who happened not to be quite like them). Sorry isn’t enough but sometimes it’s all we have. It means we accept our wrongdoing and want to do better. The trouble with being human is that we’re capable of recognising the importance of love – i.e. of other people – while putting ourselves and our little spheres first. And we’re very good at judging others for doing the same. Jesus understood us. He knew Peter’s passionate loyalty would make him raise a sword (which he had to be told to put away) and that the same loyalty would be overwhelmed by self-interest before he learned better. Most of us have heard the cock crow. The ideals of love are impossible for human beings to live. But without them we’re sunk. And it’s never been more important to recognise them because they’ve never been so deeply submerged.
Listening to most politicians you’d think that profit comes first, that patriotism meaning us before them is a principle, and success is a means of evaluating people – in other words, disrespecting those who fail to meet society’s materialistic or competitive criteria. Something fundamental has been lost and Jesus taught it so long ago that you’d think a country with a state church, and leaders who feel free to enrol Him, might have got the idea by now. We’re all equally human. And that’s it. We all have the same value, even if we own almost nothing, and are seen by those in possession of everything to contribute almost nothing. It’s not our earning power, intelligence, race or religion, sex appeal or talent that earns us respect or rights. It’s our humanity. Because we’re called to love each other, and that means listening, using our imagination to connect with people whose experience and attitudes seem to us other, and understand that they’re not less. If living in a global community only serves to alienate us from people who seem different, then we need to start learning from it, now.
Am I a Christian? Who cares? I have a dear friend who is a Muslim and lives all the ideals I cherish. I’m a follower of Jesus because His is the radical voice of love I’ve grown up hearing and loving, and life has only deepened my conviction that this love He represents is all that matters. But any radical voice of love is all right with me. Love IS radical. It changes me to us. It changes them to us. It changes the earth, its resources and all living things from mine, to use as I choose, to ours and theirs too, compelling us to control our greed out of love for those who’ll live on this planet when we’re gone. Without this kind of love in action we’re over.
Thank God for those young people who reject the politics of blame or superiority because they respect difference. They may not go to church but their community is bigger, broader and underpinned by tolerance across race, religion, sexuality, gender and cultural traditions. They look at the politicians who speak only for the privileged in the same way that Christians now look back at slavery. And like Wilberforce they demand change.
The thing about love is that without it we destroy each other, our world and ourselves. We know it, deep down, when the rest is stripped away. We just have to get better at living it, together.