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Five ways to speak to a victim culture

Western culture is no longer based on honour and dignity but on pain and grievance, says UK apologist Michael Ramsden

Christians need to relearn how to speak to a “victim culture” that is angry at the things Christians say without being defensive but in a way that makes the gospel clear and compelling, says British apologist Michael Ramsden.

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It’s not enough to be people with strong opinions on a range of ethical issues; we need to be peacemakers in a culture that equates disagreement with hatred and, gently and lovingly, show how reconciliation is possible through Christ.

Western culture is no longer based on honour and dignity but on pain and grievance, says Ramsden.

“There are five basic steps,” says the International Director of RZIM, an organisation dedicated to challenging those who shape the ideas of a culture with the credibility of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Joint Director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

Ramsden is in Australia to speak at the Oxygen conference in Sydney, three days of preaching, masterclasses and seminars for church leaders, which begins today.

“Three of the most powerful words in the English language right now are: I am offended,” he says.

The first step, he says, is to recognise the problem – that Western culture is no longer based on honour and dignity but on pain and grievance.

“Three of the most powerful words in the English language right now are: I am offended,” he says.

“We now live in a world where the only better feeling than feeling right is feeling wronged. It allows you to vent all the anger that you feel at the other person so we’re in a process of constantly demonising ourselves, so we’re seeing the collapse of free society, the collapse of civilisation, and the increasing inability for Christians to feel that they can speak about anything.”

The second step in communicating with a culture that’s riddled with conflict and prejudice against Christians is to change the way we ask our questions. He says questions that begin with “why?” are seen as aggressive and will always elicit a negative response.

“You have to actually start with what-type questions when beginning to engage with people in ‘what are the reasons you’re thinking this?’ rather than ‘why do you feel this way?’, which will be seen as you’re ignorant of something you should be aware of.”

He cites the global debate about safe spaces (for LTBTQ people) and microaggressions (casual degradation of any marginalised group) as showing how explosive a minor infringement can be in a victim culture.

“In an honour culture, it’s not honourable to be offended for suffering a microaggression and it’s not dignified to respond with anger,” he explains.

“But in a victim culture it’s seen as evidence of the fact that you’re so ignorant, you’re so blind or you’re so deliberately stupid, you’re saying something to directly needle the other person … So it’s that kind of thing we’re dealing with now, where a tiny little touch can be seen as a massive breach of the peace and justifying you swinging back trying to knock them unconscious in response.”

The third step, Ramsden says, is to find ways to engage with people and help them understand the consequence of where they’re going. “We have to ask people whether they really do want to live in a society where all forms of conflict are equal to hatred. What would the future be of any democratic society that conceded that was the case? How would democracy work in the absence of any disagreement?”

“We desperately need to recover the basis of respect.” – Michael Ramsden

The fourth thing we need to do is recapture some of the historical ground that made the kind of liberal democracies we live in around the world possible.

“The fourth one is to recapture the biblical understanding of tolerance … We live in a society now that talks about tolerance as a positive virtue, but we define and perceive tolerance negatively,” he says.

“The fundamental difference between tolerance and respect is you cannot tolerate someone and disagree with them, because if you disagree with them you’re being intolerant, but you can disagree with someone and respect them. So we desperately need to recover the basis of respect.

“As our democracy has become increasingly secularised over the last 50 years, we’ve moved away from talking about respecting other people to ‘we need to be a tolerant society.’ Well, the trouble with tolerance is eventually people snap and it normally ends in extreme intolerance, which is basically where we’ve ended up.”

The fifth thing Ramsden advises Christians to do is to realise that they something very special to offer to defuse a dangerous global phenomenon – the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation through the cross.

“The trouble is, that, classically, victimised cultures end up going to war, as in the French Revolution or prewar Germany,” he says.

“Normally, if someone has a microphone, they can make the whole country feel victimised, and the next thing they do is they feel angry and they feel justified in using violence against their enemies to obliterate them. So you can mobilise people into violence.

“The trouble is now, with the cell phone, everyone has their own little microphone on Facebook or Twitter, and we’re seeing an increasingly global form of victimisation breaking out in almost every culture of the world right now. And that raises some very fearful prospects for our future, unless we can find a way to rediscover what forgiveness actually really looks like.”

“Christians should really become peacemakers in the society in which they live, and we need to discover how to do that.” – Michael Ramsden

For the Christian, the message of reconciliation isn’t “be nice to each other” but starts with “when we were still God’s enemies and hated him, he gave himself for us.”

“So we see in the cross not only the necessary means to effect reconciliation; we also see it done in a way that should inspire us to do likewise. In other words, Christians should really become peacemakers in the society in which they live, and we need to discover how to do that.”

He says one of the challenges for every Christian is that Christianity will always be attacked, morally, ethically, theologically, and we want to respond to those things – as we should. It’s important not to get defensive when Christianity is ridiculed but make sure the gospel is not sidelined or underplayed in our response.

“We have to make sure that we’re not simply seen as good people who want to fight the world on a bunch of issues.” – Michael Ramsden

“The trouble is, if that’s all we’re doing, we very often leave out the fact that right at the heart of the gospel is this message of grace in which Christ came to lay down his life for us and give us new life, and that we need to learn to forgive as we have been forgiven.

“So the vitally important thing is, therefore, as the number of disagreements multiply, we have to make sure that we’re not simply seen as good people who want to fight the world on a bunch of issues, but actually we have a radically different gospel that we wish to present.

“So we need to fall in love with the gospel afresh and anew, and out of that love have a fresh determination to share it with others. It’s the only thing in the end that will change someone’s heart. Others may change some of what people think, but Christ is the only one in the end who is going to change someone’s life.

“If we speak to a culture in a loving way, they will see it, even when you’re at the point of disagreement. … We need to respond with gentleness and peace and maintaining our integrity. We’re commanded to reply to people in that manner so that’s the manner we need to adopt.”

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