So many news reports just sail past me and rarely will one stop me in my tracks and force me to deal with the seriousness of what is happening in the world. Until this week, I would never have dreamed that I would be speaking out about the appointment and subsequent resignation of a football club CEO and suggesting this one news story should cause every Christian in our nation to wake up and prepare themselves for what is coming. Of course I speak of the appointment of Andrew Thorburn as CEO of the Essendon Football club in Victoria and his subsequent resignation the following day after being given an ultimatum to choose between his new job or his Church.
This has nothing to do with football and I have little interest in the virtues of sport in our society. The real issue here is ‘religious extremism’ and the rapidly evolving meaning behind that emotive term. What are these ‘extremist’ views allegedly held by this man? Given the uproar and condemnation which this appointment triggered, one would expect those views to be radically different to the views espoused by the Church for 2,000 years. Sadly, that is not the case. This Church’s view on abortion and same-sex marriage has prompted this alarming pile-on from all parts of our society – views which have been held by the Church for its entire history – and have never been considered ‘far right’ or ‘extreme’ until now.
The Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith for the vast majority of Christian Churches and there is not one sentence in the Bible which normalizes homosexuality or allows anyone to think that same-sex marriage is part of God’s creative purpose for His people. There is not one sentence in the Bible which suggests there is any fluidity or multiplicity of genders. There is only male and female. The LGBTIQ+ agenda which has gained a strangle-hold on public policy in this politically correct age, cannot be found anywhere in the Bible which every Christian Church has embraced from the very beginning. So if the Bible hasn’t changed in 2,000 years and the vast majority of Christian Churches have not changed in that time, why do we now find ourselves in this very dangerous position as people of faith?
A few years ago the vast majority of people in our nation when hearing the term ‘religious extremist’ would have immediately thought of the Taliban or ISIS or some other form of Islamic extremism which has brought death and destruction to so many parts of the world in recent times. Almost nobody would have thought about those Christians meeting up the road in the local Church each Sunday. Even though the majority of people in our nation no longer personally embrace the Christian faith, very few of them would have ever considered Christians to be ‘extremists.’ Herein lies the warning – for those days have gone.
Every Christian needs to ‘read the room’ now and brace themselves for what is coming. Mainline conservative Christians who have believed the same thing and embraced the same Bible for almost 2,000 years now – all of a sudden find themselves labelled and attacked the same way the world has attacked Taliban terrorists and ISIS extremists. This lack of a clear definition of what constitutes ‘extremism’ is leaving the entire Christian Church and many other community organizations in serious danger of having this label applied to them. Bombing an abortion clinic in the name of Jesus is extremism and should be dealt with accordingly. Believing that life starts at conception and is sacred and needs to be protected, is a personal conviction which people should be free to hold dearly. Attacking homosexuals and same-sex couples personally and de-humanizing them because of their views on sexuality is extremism and such actions do not belong in the Church of Jesus Christ. Accepting the long-held view that same-sex unions are not part of God’s plan for humanity, is a personal conviction which has been respected and deeply held by millions of people for thousands of years.
In an age of religious terrorism, ‘extremist’ is too damaging a word to be tossed around with such little discretion. When our society labels something as ‘extremist,’ it marks it for marginalization. If the recent data is correct, and the events of this week are a taste of the new ‘norm’ which is coming, then millions of devoted Christians are now at risk of being ostracized, sidelined and banished from social acceptability because of their beliefs. Tragically, these are the very communities best positioned to attack genuine religious extremism. But labeling them ‘extremist’ simply encourages alienation and even radicalization.
One of the great ironies of this politically-correct age is how those who most champion tolerance are often in such great need of the virtue themselves. Society calls ‘extremist’ those believers they consider to be rigid, narrow-minded, and unaccepting of others. Carelessly painting such wide sections of society with such a dark brush is its own form of intolerance. It’s refusing to accept those who are less accepting. It’s coercing someone to convert to your way of thinking to keep them from converting others to their own. It’s marginalizing one group to keep them from shaming some other marginalized group. It actually contributes to the very problem it’s trying to solve! Christians in this nation are rapidly becoming the most criticized, attacked and marginalized group in our society.
Of course, no serious follower of Jesus Christ should be surprised at this point. The Bible contains many, many warnings about the persecution which will be experienced by Christians in the last days. Perhaps we didn’t expect it to look like this, but we must understand that the best tool a wayward, amoral society has against a perceived threat is marginalization and isolation. “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) we are “ … persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:9)