Opinion

Folau: let perfect love cast out our fear

Tom Wright says in his book The Day Revolution Began that the Reformation gave great biblical answers to medieval questions. Everyone then believed in heaven and hell. They were plagued by guilt and prepared to pay for indulgences in order to escape the wrath of an angry God. The Reformation taught them that in Jesus, guilt is dealt with through faith, by grace alone.

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More than 500 years on, in secular nations like Australia, we seem to have shrugged off any sense of guilt. Faith has given ground and instead society has picked up its nemesis, fear. That fear is clear in our heightened levels of anxiety and social isolation, our decreasing trust of others and loss of connection in community. The Bible says ‘Fear Not’ hundreds of times because fear, not doubt, is the opposite of faith. Our secular society needs biblical answers to modern concerns of fear, anxiety, and the nihilism of a life without faith. So when our faith is articulated in the public square it should address anxiety and fear.

Indeed, we can start to see every action, every headline, every water-cooler conversation through the lens of a faith under attack; rather than relishing in the comparative freedoms we enjoy, with a posture ready to engage, to serve and to respond with answers that show the reason for our hope.

The Israel Folau case has been confronting. For one thing it has highlighted how our faith is seen by our secular neighbours. People considered Folau’s warnings about hell as simply cruel and damaging, and attributed the same to his motives. A friend told me his 14-year-old son was singled out at school by a bunch of mates – ‘Are you a Christian?’ He nodded and they said: ‘Well, you must hate gays’. This perception is a serious problem for Christians taking their faith into the public arena.

The response of the faith community to the sacking of Folau has been vocal and at saturation levels; some have argued it is because Christian faith is under threat. Indeed, we can start to see every action, every headline, every water-cooler conversation through the lens of a faith under attack; rather than relishing in the comparative freedoms we enjoy, with a posture ready to engage, to serve and to respond with answers that show the reason for our hope.

I don’t want to see our church captured by fear; walling ourselves in, forgetting we are at our best when, like the early church, we are living lives in our communities that reflect the boundless love and overwhelming grace of God.

Last month an article in The Guardian quoted me as saying that fellow Christians needed to “calm down” about alleged persecution against Christians and like Jesus, to “suck it up.” I gave examples of other nations where Christians are persecuted in the most horrendous of ways. It was meant as a loose paraphrase of Jesus’ injunction to turn the other cheek, and a way to maintain perspective.

I don’t want to see our church captured by fear; walling ourselves in, forgetting we are at our best when, like the early church, we are living lives in our communities that reflect the boundless love and overwhelming grace of God. That is why I wanted to call Australian Christians to a bigger perspective on the issue of religious freedom.

When people of faith sound like they are fearful, the strength of the witness is diminished.

The same day as The Guardian article was published, our Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke at Hillsong Conference. When asked about religious freedom, he recalled the plight of missionaries in Soviet Russia, saying “you didn’t hear stories about them complaining about their rights … They were just loving in that situation and they were out there for God. That was their response and this country needs more love and less judgment.”

I was, and am impressed by that response. We are made by a God who is characterised by love. A God who in love sent Jesus to redeem us, so that we might flourish. Love is the biblical answer to the modern saturation of fear.

There are important discussions to be had about religious freedom in our nation. I am fully supportive of faith communities being free to serve their communities in a manner that coheres with their beliefs. But when people of faith sound like they are fearful, the strength of the witness is diminished. Maintaining our faith in a God who sustains us by his love is a vital component of this current public engagement.

Tim Costello is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity.

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