Saturday, 10 January 2015

Nous sommes libres, aussi?

I was praying - as many faithful people everywhere must have been yesterday - for the hostages held in France by two sets of terrorists and especially for the hostage in the printworks, north west of Paris. I was delighted last night that Michel Catalano emerged unscathed and was reunited with his wife Veronique and his family. His hidden colleague inside a cardbord box in a locked room was giving police information on the layout of the building: he too was spared. Those trapped in a cold store in the kosher supermarket in Paris also emerged safely. 

We must thank our God and the bravery of the security services and police for these outcomes, since the numbers of deaths could have included school children used as hostages. God is willing to intervene, for example in split second mistakes by perpetrators - such as leaving their mobile phone on - to rescue people. He can guide hostages to do the wisest things in such situations which is to remain in hiding while keeping calm, comforting and supporting each other - and praying. Prayers activate divine, invisible protection.

Having said that, freedom of speech is something that most Christian believers feel is being torn from them in the secular West. Certainly, there is a (limited) freedom of expression to criticise faith and believers. The Trinitarian God can deal with offences against Him. He was crucified (subjected to abject humiliation) but He then defied his enemies - by rising from the dead. He does not need us to act on His behalf. Instead Christians are called to remain faithful to Him - which may still cost us our lives.

But do Christians have this valued ‘freedom of expression’? Do they have equal freedom of expression to preach the teachings of their Founder, in public? Street preachers have been (erroneously) arrested in this country - for doing just that. Christians must insist on religious freedom being included in this robust defence of 'freedom of speech' (a 17th century development of the printing presses). Otherwise, ‘freedom of speech’ merely means the freedom of the majority to have their secular views expressed in public, uncontested, while imposing penalties, even criminal charges on those of faith who take contrary views. That is not freedom.

Christians in the historic past have defended that freedom with great courage actively. The Waldensians, early biblical believers, became adept at defending their freedom of religion from murderous religious persecutors, using resistance, defensive weapons and tactics in their Alpine valleys and secret, remote hiding places. At The Glorious Return, they were led by pastors and rescued by God's last minute guidance and answered prayers. 

Even so, as John Milton records, many Waldensians died for their faith, including martyred girls thrown from pinnacles. They are revered as martyrs.

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