From the do not’s of the ten commandments to the supposedly hard line attitudes of St Paul our faith tradition has had a bit of problem presenting a positive image. Christians and their churches are those people who tell you what you must not do or be. Judgement is the name and stopping your good times is the game – especially and obsessively where sexuality is concerned. Add a dollop of seemingly baffling and irrelevant dogmas dressed up as the one-way entry point to belief and the picture could hardly be less rosy. But then again, call yourself a Methodist and the difficulties of public mis-perception are exacerbated to the nth degree: our ‘brand’ is seen to be firmly at the no drink, no gambling, let the (no)fun times roll killjoy end of the religious spectrum. I fear that we are seen by what we are assumed to deny rather than by what we actually advocate. We are ill-judged on the basis of ridiculous absurdities which we are alleged to believe rather than by the down to earth gospel values which actually motivate us. And isn’t all of this the massively frustrating rub for Christians in general? The facile, intemperate, caricatured attacks of some prominent atheists only makes our already difficult public image so much worse. In our time there is a whopping big red cultural stop sign preventing people from getting close to church and faith.
I for one lament the culturally pervasive anomaly between how religion is framed in and by society on the one hand and the Christians I see who are putting effort and commitment into serving the needs of their local communities and making their own working relationships and networks more humane and wholesome, on the other. The essence of a Jesus-shaped life has to be a full on green light ‘Yes’ to life in all its fullness, for that is what Jesus promises. His life and teaching open up the inter-personal realities of a healthy and wholly good lifestyle, which flows so naturally from a gracious understanding of love and its practice. The gospels are a green-light for a positive, affirming and life-liberating view of personhood and society. Jesus describes the very essence of what it is to be wonderfully human. In him we see what the ancient biblical foundations of loving-kindness, mercy and justice look like.
This being so and a priori true, the red stop light aspects of Christianity are a necessary and needful corollary to this essential God derived green-light perspective which sees the world as ‘Original Blessing’ and humanity as inherently good and beautiful. The red light is there to stop crashes from happening. It protects us from ourselves and each other. Cross on red and you may very well be hurt badly, or worse. The Christian faith offers values and ways of behaving which seek to enhance the experience of being alive for everyone without exception. This explains its radical cutting edge politically. And because we are as we are as a species, with our unceasing propensity to harm and destroy the wellbeing of others, our faith tradition also carries the common memory of what happens when things go wrong. The Stop lights represent the costly, accumulated and always evolving experiential wisdom of millennia. And for that matter, so too does the green light for Go. The Stop lights warn of the consequences of our actions for ourselves and others; Green seeks to maximise the social capital of love and build a mutually assured future for the human race. Both lights are necessary if we are truly to live by and for the love of God which we see in Jesus. If only our secular contemporaries would see Green first…….which of course is a challenge for to us to get our collective act together first.