I was recently privileged to be invited to a drinks reception at the House of Lords. At it, a group of us heard from lawyers working for ‘ADF’, the Alliance Defending Freedom. This is a USA-originating group that seeks to pursue freedom and human rights, from a broadly Christian set of principles, that has until recently had a large European operation. This remains, but the event was to celebrate the launch of the London office.
The fourth word I used in the opening sentence of this blog piece was ‘privileged’, which was deliberate. With this in mind, it was fascinating to note some of the people I got to chat to. Alongside a smattering of journalists, a sprinkling of Lords and MP’s, there were charity lawyers, Parliamentary interns, and a few friends from university – regular readers will know I did my undergraduate degree at Nottingham, and it was good to see fellow Alumni operating winsomely in the corridors of power, still loving Jesus and following his call on their lives into the public square. It was far more sobering to meet a missionary, who’d invested nearly two decades in a country on the fringes of Europe, who’d recently been effectively deported despite reassurances about the right to the freedom of religion. He had some even more sobering stories to tell.
Being a Christian in the public square in the present age is an interesting game. It seems we can’t do anything right. Whatever you say, on a pedestal or from the chamber of power, or on Twitter, or in a social setting, will be misinterpreted by someone, abhorred by others, and celebrated by few. I remember a series of seminars at what was then New Word Alive, where Wayne Grudem walked us through some theological concepts. The enduring line that stuck with me at the end was ‘don’t be weird’. This evening with ADF, then, was intriguing. What if being a Christian in the public square meant something rather than looking weird? What if being a Christian in the public square meant something other than headline-grabbing and statements that miss the point? What if being a Christian in the public square was a quiet, thoughtful, prayerful activity, engaging with the systems of this world winsomely?
Well, if that were the case, perhaps we would see the shifts in culture that we as the wider church seem so unable to effect.
I’m sure there are things about ADF that are problematic. I’m sure there are ways and methods that I will find frustrating and push back on. But two things from the launch deeply encouraged me. Firstly, that ‘alliance’ and cooperation with others is in their DNA. This is in contrast with some of the more belligerent defenders of Christianity and other worldviews in the public square, but also echoes the hints of the Kingdom of God in Jesus great prayer for unity in John 17. It was good to talk honestly with friends from a Roman Catholic perspective – recognising our serious differences (perhaps especially in this year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation) but also agreeing on ways we can work together for the common good in the public square.
The second encouragement, which gave me hope despite the impressive setting of the launch, was the humility and thoughtfulness of the speakers. Given the setting, this perhaps is not to be easily expected – but is, I think, an important point to note. I’m excited to see how this posture of not chasing the limelight but working behind the scenes can change our culture. Overall, then, a fascinating, encouraging, and thought-provoking evening.