We live in times that have been described as the “Age of Anxiety.” Our society, it seems to me at least, is increasingly shaped by the fear of litigation and “reputational damage”. Organisations, of all shapes and sizes, apply great attention to the mitigation of risks. This is as it should be. Safeguarding policies to protect the vulnerable, data protection procedures to guard against identity theft and risk assessments of planned activities benefit and protect us all. Yet, it concerns me, that a safety-first society which views the world through the lens of fear is a culture which may find itself afraid to act, innovate or speak out.
This is all well and for our good, but it has left me wondering and worrying if such a focus on protection and avoidance of harm leads to a spirit of fear and anxiety which can inhibit our Christian witness?
I wonder if the restrictions on Christian expression in the workplace translate into a hesitancy about sharing our faith beyond the world of work?
I wonder if the pushback against MSP Kate Forbes and her affirmation of Christian values makes us cautious of expressing our faith, fearing misrepresentation and repercussion?
I worry that we may be capitulating to a subconscious groupthink that tells us that there should be no Christian voice in the public square.
I worry that we may be silencing ourselves.
I wonder what you think?
In his brilliant and, frankly prophetic, book “Failure of Nerve”, (written in the early 1990s) Edwin Freidman tracks the trajectory of western society from “parents to presidents” towards a gridlock of inaction and silence, driven by fear. He raises the spectre of a culture where a new puritanism of thought inhibits any challenge to the herd mentality and cancels and excludes dissent.
He contrasts our age of anxiety with the age of adventure where great explorers, such as Columbus, set off across the world not knowing if there were winds and weather systems to get them back or whether they would fall off the earth into a great abyss if they crossed the equator.
As we approach Sunday I have been thinking about Daniel, our last Old Testament character (have a read of Daniel 6). As we have been looking at growth points in the lives of these heroes of faith Daniel makes a great end point. For Daniel shows us that personal change is expressed in public witness. Daniel’s personal choices cut against the grain of social policy and Babylonian culture, yet his voice remains true. That it, seems to me, is a great example of wholeness, integrity and witness.
The government around him doubles down on what it is socially acceptable to believe or to proclaim. So, what does he do? He flings his windows wide and prays openly for all to see, to the God of Israel. And there are consequences. A risk assessment would have suggested that an evening with lions was out of the question. Nevertheless, Daniel was undeterred and carried on with his prayerful, sacred resistance.
“Dare to be a Daniel” is a line from an old song but it rings ever true. Perhaps as 21st century Christians in the UK, we are more than ever in a culture like Daniel’s. Many of us are, like Daniel, strategically located in businesses and organisations, families and communities where we have the opportunity to lead wisely and relate positively and helpfully. I know what some of you are up to and you are amazing!
Nevertheless, all of us face the very real challenge of how to articulate in a clear way the good news about Jesus and his power to change lives. I doubt that reciting jargon or complaining about moral degradation will cut it, but I do know that the good news remains “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16) and that the Holy Spirit accompanies and empowers our stuttering attempts at sharing faith.
Our vision theme calls us to “engage in bold outreach”. Following Jesus was for his first disciples nothing less than a brave step into an adventure of faith and it remains so for us.
So maybe it’s time for us Christians to put on our big boy (girl) trousers and be brave!
Join the adventure,
I dare you…