Last month, on the eve of his final conference as leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage called on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to stand down from his role, accusing him of not standing up for “Christian values” in the UK. His words were in response to criticism from the archbishop of UKIP’s strong anti-immigration policies which he described as “legitimising racism”.
Mr Farage in particular pointed to Archbishop Justin’s response to the ongoing refugee crisis, accusing him of turning a blind eye to a series of sexual assaults carried out in Cologne, Germany, mainly by asylum seekers. He compared it to the condemnatory response of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Germany, saying that, in comparison, Archbishop Justin was simply not willing to protect Christian values and culture by supporting allowing further immigration and acceptance of refugees from the war in Syria.
This is simply one of many political rows and statements in recent years concentrating, or using concept of Christian values. Many areas of the press, many politicians and other pressure groups speak of defending Christian values from a whole range of things, from Muslim immigrants and refugees, to gay rights, feminism, political correctness, secularism and multiculturalism. All of these things are portrayed, to varying degrees, as a threat to our way of life and our Christian culture and values.
The one thing which is very rarely mentioned, however, is exactly what is meant by “Christian values”. It’s usually taken as written that people will instinctively know what is meant by the term and, it appears, most people do have something in mind to define it whenever the term is used.
This all begs one very important question: If politicians, campaigners, the media and the public all have an idea of what Christian values are, what actually are they?
Well, I could spend the whole time talking about what they are not, after all, Isaiah and Paul were extremely clear on the sorts of things many people feel are necessary, but don’t really constitute the values God wants of us – They are not turning up at Church on a Sunday, or refusing to do work on a Sunday, or making sure we observe festivals, or demonstrating piety, or saying our prayers, or telling people we are Christians or so many of the other public demonstrations of faith we can make. These are the easy things, the things which take no real sacrifice – no real faith – and are also easy to demand of others.
You see, when we hear of Christian values, these are the kind of things which are meant; the easy, cultural values which we can demand of everybody, the strict rules and conditions of being “one of us”, and a list of all the things we disapprove of and stand against.
When we hear, or even speak of Christian values, what we often really mean is our values. We impose our own world view onto others and say we are doing it to protect our Christian identity, demanding all conform otherwise they are oppressing us, they are a threat to us and must be resisted. Eventually, Christian values end up being viewed as things we are against, rather than things we are for.
The thing is, though, that these are all human values. When we think about what Christian values we all have a habit of fitting our own values into the description. These values have no right to be called Christian, though because they don’t meet the only criteria that term demands.
What are Christ’s values?
If we really want to live and promote Christian values then we need to look to Christ. Not to politicians or newspapers, or even ourselves, but to Christ. It’s one of those occasions where the old slogan “What would Jesus do?” applies perfectly.
So, let’s try to apply that question. In the face of millions displaced by a vicious war, fought by oppressive regimes on both sides; in the face of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children risking their lives to escape hell on earth in order to reach lands of freedom and safety; in the face of people living in relative poverty moving country in order to find a better life for them and their families – what would Jesus do?
One way to tell is to actually listen to his words:
“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.”
“I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me”
“Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it.”
Luke 4 (quoting Isaiah 61)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.”
These are Christian values; relieving the burdens of others, sharing our plenty with others who have little, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, freeing the captives and oppressed.
In her book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality As A Christian Tradition, Christine D Pohl wrote this,
“to welcome strangers into a distinctly Christian environment without coercing them into conformity requires that their basic well-being not be dependent on sharing certain commitments. When basic well-being is under attack by the larger society, Christians have a responsibility to welcome endangered persons into their lives, churches, and communities.
And there are no conditions put on this. At no stage does Jesus say we should only do this for other of his followers, or only if we can keep our own way of life intact, or only if people are willing to integrate into how we live. Love is unconditional, it stems from a life truly lived in Christ, from living under his control. When we live like this, when we allow ourselves, as Paul writes, to die with Christ so we can let go of our own worldly interests, then we find ourselves loving unconditionally in the same way.
You see, Christian values aren’t something to be protected, or forced onto others, they are something which comes from Christ himself and he gives to us, through the Holy Spirit, if we properly submit to him.
As far as placing conditions on love based around conforming to certain, man made standards is concerned, Jesus certainly had things to say on this as well with attacks on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who would laud it over the people, making big shows of their religious observance and condemning those unable to live up to their standards; but only doing it all for show and status, rather than for any desire to honour God.
Jesus knew that this went way back. Isaiah wrote about it when telling Jerusalem of their impending destruction. The people of Jerusalem would go through the motions of following rituals and rules, but there was nothing in their heart when doing it. There was no justice, no help for the oppressed, no rights for the vulnerable.
When we become like this then our worship, our songs, our prayers mean nothing to God. Less than nothing, they become detestable to him. All because we have lost sight of him and his desire for us to look after each other as human beings, his creations. As far back as Leviticus he said,
“Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land. Treat them as you would an Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
God wants us to forget our race or nationalities and to become one in him, treating all others – ALL others – with a welcoming, caring, giving and unconditional love.
So, when we come out with language alienating others on the basis of their nationality, or even their religion, and seek to make them unwelcome we are turning away from God, from Christ; when we speak of being worried about immigrants destroying the British way of life; when we stop innocent and suffering people from coming to safety for the fear that their religion means they may be a terrorist; we aren’t defending Christian values, we are turning away and destroying them.
It is our obligation as human beings and as Christians to offer safety and shelter to refugees, to be welcoming to strangers in our country and to share our own resources with those less fortunate. That is what Christian values and community are all about, loving one another as Christ loves us.
I’ll leave the last word to Justin Welby, a man who spends his life not defending, but promoting Christian values,
“God calls us to look outwards and care for those things He cares for; the poor, the sick, the suffering, the lost.”