Major-General Patrick Cordingley, in a letter published in The Times on 28th November wrote, to the surprise of some, “Terrorism will be defeated by ideas, not bombs”. This is a welcome recognition that bombs alone will not solve the current terrorist crisis. We know that young people in the West are being turned into terrorists, recruited for ISIS (and no doubt similar organisations). So we should be putting forward our ideas and trying to discuss them with friends and neighbours of whatever background, faith or no-faith.
The UK Government announced last week that Madrassas will be subject to inspection by Ofsted, who will be instructed to look out for encouragement to violence. On the surface this sounds like a prudent move. But what this does not do is to engage with and argue with the preachers of hate, nor with those who they influence. Instead it will tend to shut down discussion and in the process restrict free speech. It is also likely further to alienate Muslim communities as they find their religious instruction subject to Government control. Imagine how Christians would feel if the Government announced that it proposed to bring Anglican children’s work under the Ofsted regime, with inspectors looking out for deviations from “British Values”.
The trouble with this is that it will have a chilling effect on the discussion of more controversial subjects, such as same-sex attraction. In the light of the Trojan Horse allegations in Birmingham, several faith schools, both Christian and Muslim have been reassessed by Ofsted and previously satisfactory ratings downgraded, with the original assessors criticised.
The decision of Digital Cinema Media last weekend to reject the Church of England’s Lord’s Prayer advert – intended to be shown before the new Star Wars movie – is another example of shutting down debate and it too has a chilling effect on ordinary Christians who want to explain the Gospel. DCM claimed that “Some advertisements – unintentionally or otherwise – could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as those of different faiths and indeed of no faith.” But there will always be someone capable of being offended. And we know that the Gospel is offensive to many – God offers to forgive those who do not deserve forgiveness, that is each of us. Encouragingly, the Equality and Human Rights Commission responded that there is no right not to be offended.
Christians believe that the God the Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for human sin – the wages of sin is death – and so to reconcile us to God. How do we embrace this? By repenting (putting God first, not ourselves) and believing. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except by me.” Having been redeemed by God, the believer belongs to God and we come back under his law. His law seeks peace – just read the Ten Commandments if you doubt that. They can be found at Exodus, Chapter 20, verses 1-17. This is not righteousness by works; righteousness only comes through God’s grace in continuing to forgive the believer’s disobedience. In the words of the hymn, the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
This is the Christian message. It should have a profound influence on the conflicts and terrorism of the world. And it is the message which Christians who love their fellow men and women (so all Christians) should be trying to get over. We are now in Advent, and soon it will be Christmas. This should give us the extra confidence, if we need it, to proclaim and explain God’s message of peace and reconciliation through the death of Jesus Christ, and to be prepared to discuss it openly with friends, neighbours and those who disagree with it.