Moralistic Christians

Eleven different ways of experiencing Christianity—Part 6

There are many ways of seeing yourself as a Christian. You can add another way as your faith grows; you can have more than one at a time and move through them over time.

I am going to look at this through Advent this year. None of them is wrong when taken in context with the others; all of them are wrong on their own. The list is not exhaustive.

A small crowd of people sit on the grass in a park facing a stage.
The 50th anniversary rally of the Nationwide Festival of Light

A set of moral values or laws that you try to uphold

I am entering into the quagmire that is ethics and morality here, an area where it is impossible to please everyone, even among those who use the label ‘Christian.’ So here is where I upset everyone. Possibly.

Shortly after I became a Christian there were a number of moral crusades:

The National Viewers and Listeners Association – National being a misnomer, it started as a local group who lived close to each other. It was mostly trying to ‘clean up TV’ from sexual and violent images.
The Nationwide Festival of Light – A grassroots movement of Christians concerned with the rise of the permissive society.
The Peace People – A protest movement against violence in Northern Ireland.

I have a dog in this fight. It is the moralistic preaching of the Nationwide Festival of Light and the National Viewers which stopped me, as a 16 or 17-year-old, from attending church and drove me for a time away from Christianity. I found their moralistic teaching objectionable. But they did good: The 9pm watershed before which content was more strictly controlled and porn magazines were banned from newsagents windows and restricted to the top shelf, away from the eyes of children, whose comics were now on the bottom shelf. The content of late-night TV got more progressively, particularly after the launch of Channel 4, and the content of top-shelf magazines became harder porn than before. Whether this was the consequence of the segregation of these forms or something that would have happened anyway we do not know.

Also on 30th January 1974, the second anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland a non-Christian me took part in a ‘Troops Out’ protest in Newcastle, my University city, against British troops being stationed in Northern Ireland. On 27th November I was now a Christian again and took part in the Peace People rally in Trafalgar Square, London, protesting sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Peace and the way violence affects people have always been on my heart. What I have said above colours what I am about to say. These examples are from over 40 years ago and do not reflect where I am now.

Morals are tied up with justice, and our God is a god of justice, but there is a problem with moralism, which is saying that changing the way we act is the way to a better society.

Moralists come from all kinds of Christianity. To those on the political right it takes the form of personal ethics, like those of the National Viewers and Listeners Association and to the political left and liberals it takes the form of social ethics. It is difficult to draw the line as to where it falls. Both are Biblical. Here’s where I upset both sides of the arguement:

To conservatives, I say you are wrong to reject those whose morals lead them to focus on marginalised groups. Jesus calls all to him, God stands for the rights of the widows and orphans, those who have no power. If you try to build a wall between yourselves and other people you are cutting yourself off from God.

To Christians on the left, I say that personal morals matter. Porn addiction is real and still affects people even though the sales of top shelf magazines is dwindling. Porn has moved online and is being watched by more, and younger, people.

It’s all about Jesus

Christianity is all about Jesus Christ, that’s where the name comes from. Never point the finger at other people as those who do wrong. Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers and Listeners Association sued Gay News editor Denis Lemon, her Barrister was John Smyth. Reports emerged that Smyth had performed sadistic beatings on schoolboys and young men who regarded him as a spiritual father at a Christian camp run by Scripture Union, of which Smyth was a member run with funds from Iwerne Trust, run by Smyth.

People are not changed by moralistic campaigns. People are changed by being introduced to Jesus. Jesus did not moralise on the ethics of the people, he acted with compassion to a woman caught in an act of adultery, clearly against God’s commandments given to Moses. He is never recorded as punching down. Jesus punched up at those with power. He did condemn those who stood moralistically over the people, using the law legalistically, and metaphorically as a rod to beat people. Jesus revealed that God’s justice is displayed in love for all people, not punishment. There are a lot of alls in the teaching of Jesus: “Come to me all who labour,” he said. He also said that whoever comes to him will not be turned away, “To all the people who received him he gave the right to be Children of God,” said John. Andrew, when he said he had found the Messiah said, “Come and you will see.”

I also say. “Come and you will see.”

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