Should church be dangerous or should it be comforting? Can it be both? And what is “dangerous” when talking about church?
These were questions that came to my mind when I was at a prayer meeting several weeks ago, on Zoom, where this photo was shared and the focus of prayer was on a more dangerous church.
What makes a church dangerous?
A church is dangerous when it takes a moral stand and that moral stand can be political. When Jesus chose to eat with tax collectors and prostitutes he was making a political point. Don’t confuse political with party political. My dictionary defines politics like this “the principles relating to or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status.” It is not about parties. When Jesus ate with Zacchaeus he was making a political point. This man matters too. This man has value and deserves to be treated like everyone else. That is a political statement because it flies in the face of the principles of social status. When Church denominations issue statements condemning government policies or actions because of the harm they do that is the church being like Jesus. When churches run food banks while condemning the need for foodbanks they are following Jesus’s instruction to give while following his example in being political. A dangerous church stands against the status quo.
Whether we like to acknowledge it or not there is a systemic, ingrained racism and sexism and ageism in all our institutions in this country which works to the benefit of people like me, a middle aged white male, at the expense of many others. When the church stands up, acknowledges that and looks to change, it is not being “woke”, it is not “jumping on a band wagon”. It is being politically dangerous because it is opposing a world many of us are very comfortable in. It is opposing the power that rules our earthly realm. Archbishops have automatically been given a place in the House of Lords when they have retired. John Sentamu, retiring Archbishop of York, was the first not to be given this honour. He is black and an outspoken opponent of many government policies. Regardless of how you view the House of Lords it is difficult not to see a racist or party political motive to that decision when you look at who has been made a lord recently. The church stood against this decision, calling it out as racially motivated. As the state church the Anglicans risk a lot of power and influence every time they stand up to the government yet they continue to do so.
Cross-denominational opposition to the sex trade, sweatshops and other forms of modern slavery are examples of the church being dangerous, because it is opposing established systems of power in many parts of the world.
But what about on a local basis. How is and can the church be dangerous on a local level?
At it’s heart Christianity is a radical faith. Think about Jesus for a minute. Muhammad died of poisoning at age 62, Buddha and Confucius died of old age as did Zoroaster, Abraham died of old age too. Jesus died age 33,nailed to a cross, murdered for politics and he knew it was coming. Each of these other religions, in my limited understanding, considers our actions, our good or bad deeds, to be key to our connection with God. Most religions consider acts of charity to be of vital importance in showing how Holy you are. Christianity on the other hand promotes the idea we are saved through Grace. That is a powerful and dangerous concept instantly because it frees us from the chains that bind when you have boxes to tick. There is no expectation of a Christian beyond accepting Christ as their saviour, which will lead to a heart change which will make you more Jesus-like. Jesus didn’t lay down strict rules about giving to charity or doing good deeds but he didn’t say don’t do them. He left it to us to figure out what was right and to do it in the right heart. Christianity believes, if you accept Jesus, you will want to do good deeds and give charitably. it asserts free will.