Monday, 16 February 2009

Michael Jensen on martyrdom

Going through some old notebooks over the weekend, I found the following notes (in antique white) on the subject of martyrdom and the Christian "way of being a self", from a seminar given by Michael Jensen on a church retreat back in 2007. Jensen has subsequently finished his PhD on this very subject. I don't know how much of what follows was revised for that, as I haven't been able to find out where his dissertation was published, but I've reproduced my notes here becaue I thought parts of some of them would be relevant to the series of posts I've been doing about Christians facing persecution in the UK at the moment. I've also expanded them slightly to make them into full sentences, and filled in some sub-points from memory as well.

12 proposals about martyrdom:
  1. Martyrdom is the external enactment, or representation, of the internal reality of the Christian life: that is, death to self (Mark 8:35) from the very beginning of our walk with God (Romans 6:3-4). Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, himself martyred in Nazi Germany, said, "When Christ calls a man, he bid him come and die".
  2. Etymologically, martyrdom means witness, and this is the New Testament use of the word. Suffering will be involved in witness (Matthew 10:17-20) as a result of the gospel proclamation that Jesus is Lord. 
  3. Martyrdom is an imitation, and an amplification (Acts 7:59-60), of Jesus in his passion and death. 
  4. Martyrdom is completely different to suicide because 
  5. Martyrdom affirms life by renouncing it. Life is very valuable, in fact, it is the most valuable gift we can give; and it also comes from the best thing there is, namely God. Nevertheless, some Christians are called to give it up, as some are called to give up other possessions for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 19:16-30). What's important is that we "sit loose" to these things.
  6. As evidence that people are willing to die for Christ, martyrdom is a sign of the ongoing power of Jesus in the world.
  7. As Augustine said, "It is the cause, not the punishment, that makes the martyr", so e.g. Gandhi wasn't a martyr, because he didn't testify to the truth. 
  8. Martyrdom is an act of God, not human beings, so one can't self-designate as a martyr. Martyrs don't pursue their own death (1 Peter 3:13-17). 
  9. Martyrdom is a sign of a distinctively Christian mode of speech: we love people to death. The way we speak means we run risks, ranging all the way from ridicule to death. But we don't (or shouldn't) bang on about our rights; rather, we should be concerned about what is right. 
  10. Martyrdom is a sign of the impermanence of earthly power compared with God's eternal reign. The book of Daniel gives a good series of examples of this. 
  11. Martyrdom is not merely a stand of dissidence, but a witness to the rule of God in Christ. Therefore, a (carefully-considered) truce is possible with the government or other power structures if they listen. 
  12. Martyrdom is a sign that our way of being a self is completely at odds with the secular one(s): we renounce pleasure and security if need be. Knowing this will help us to explore and perhaps understand the "mutual incomprehension" that often exists between Christians and non-Christians.

Points 4-5 about martyrdom vs. suicide remind me of G.K. Chesterton's remarks on that subject (the paragraph beginning "About the same time"). This is particularly relevant at the moment because I suppose (as Jensen supposed) then when people hear "martyrdom" today, the first thing they think of is suicide bombing. See also point 8.

As I recall, what provoked the most discussion at the time was point 9, particularly the insistence that we don't "bang on about our rights". Jensen was keen that the church shouldn't be making itself into just another special interest pressure group, trying to carve out its own space within which to operate. As I agreed with Alex Fear about the Nadia Eweida affair, I agreed (and agree) with Jensen about this. Something that emerged from the discussion is that one natural outworking of the point that we should, rather, be concerned about what is right is that we should be as concerned for other people's rights as our own. This means holding the state to account in terms of the justice it promises to provide.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Still more petition material

I'm in a mood to keep digging these up.

Christian foster mother struck off after Muslim girl converts (Telegraph)

Foster parents are supposed to "respect and preserve" the faith of those in their care. However, in this case, the girl in question was 16 years old and the interest in Christianity was all her own, according to the article. Mike Judge of the Christian Institute said:
I cannot imagine that an atheist foster carer would be struck off if a Christian child in her care stopped believing in God.
Good point. Now the girl is back with her parents, who are apparently unaware of her conversion, I wonder if we could be facing another case similar to that of "Hannah".

What does St. Valentine's Day have to with St. Valentine?

Not much. But I hope you have a good one.

Friday, 13 February 2009

John Sentamu on the Petrie and Cain controversies

The intolerance towards Christians in the public sector is an affront (Daily Mail)
Asking someone to leave their belief in God at the door of their workplace is akin to asking them to remove their skin colour before coming into the office. Faith in God is not an add-on or optional extra.

For me, my trust in God is part of my DNA; it is central to who I am and defines my place in the world. It informs my whole life, not just a weekly service on a Sunday.

It is the failure to grasp this basic understanding of what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ that lies at the heart of the problem of which these two cases are just symptoms.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

More petition material, and musings on the senses of "secular"

Teacher scolds girl, 5, for talking about Jesus (The Christian Institute)

  • On 22 January, Jasmine Cain was told off by her teacher at Landscore Primary School in Crediton, Devon for "discussing heaven and God with a friend".
  • The next day her mother, Jennie Cain, who works part-time at the school, was told by the headmaster that "he wasn’t happy about [Jasmine] making statements about her faith".
  • That weekend Mrs. Cain e-mailed ten friends from church, asking them to pray for her daughter and for the school.
  • The head, Gary Read, called Mrs. Cain back into his office a few days later with a copy of the e-mail in his hand, and told her that she would be investigated for professional misconduct for "making allegations about the school and staff to members of the public".
The title of the article doesn't tell you the most disturbing part of the story. The most disturbing part of the story is that Mrs. Cain's private e-mail should end up in her boss' hands.

I have a theory about these controversies that periodically come up between Bible-believing Christians and various power structures in the UK recently (not wholly unlike John Richardson's): People are naturally worried about unfair discrimination, so they take measures to make sure that (for example) some people don't get an unfair advantage over others because of their religious beliefs. This push towards what we might call religious neutrality is sometimes known as secularism.

At the same time, there are people pushing to have any mention of anything religious-sounding removed from the public sphere. This is also known as secularism, but it's not the same thing as religious neutrality. In fact, it's de facto atheism, and hence just as unfair as any other kind of establishment. These two senses of "secular" are often confused, by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

I just signed a petition in support of Caroline Petrie,

the nurse facing disciplinary action for offering to pray for a patient, here. Terry Sanderson of the NatSecSoc has thrown all his toys out of the pram over this. My comment on the Telegraph piece was:
I'd like to register my support for Caroline Petrie. An offer to pray is just that, an offer - and a kind offer at that. How does this amount to an attempt to impose her beliefs on others?
But then, I would say that.

Update (22:53): For some reason my comment didn't make it past the mods, but that doesn't matter because now Mrs. Petrie has been reinstated. Hooray.