Diplomacy and doves
Diplomacy and doves
22 July 2020
Were the great reformer John Knox alive today, I don’t think the Protestant Church would be wise to choose him as a spokesperson. He had a somewhat unfortunate way with words, and a bit of an uncompromising manner, particularly when it came to ladies in government. It’s not that he was sexist, just that he believed female rulers were an abomination and ought to stay at home having babies.
And, like an awful lot of people – to be fair not all of them men – once Knox had said a thing, that was it. He was not a fan of taking back ill-chosen words, nor of admitting when he’d been a bit of an insensitive twit.
He even managed to contradict his fellow reformer, John Calvin, who had used biblical examples, such as Deborah, to demonstrate God’s willingness to raise up female leaders. Knox wasn’t having any of it, though, and maintained that women ruling was a breach of the God-given order.
The worrying thing for me is that I’m not entirely persuaded that my church would keep Knox away from the microphone. I can almost hear the arguments in his favour: “Oh, but he’s so godly”; “Oh, but his theology is sound”; “Oh, but he’s not afraid to speak the truth”. Knox would undoubtedly possess the courage and the drive to speak for the Church: but are those the only qualifications?
Let me circumvent any misunderstanding. I’m not referring to ‘the Church’ in terms of an institution, or as a specific denomination. What I’m speaking about is Christianity, the cause of Christ. There are many people who love the Lord and who wish to see some restoration of truth to public life. But if we’re ever going to get there, we need a wee bit of the ‘s’ word: strategy. Strategy backed up by prayer and trusting God, absolutely, but still, a strategy.
First up on my planner, therefore, is ‘silence all the would-be Knoxes’. Knox was all kinds of things: courageous, straight-talking and a champion of Christ. We have people like that, though obviously not of his stature, today. And sometimes, I’m afraid that when they speak, I cringe.
It isn’t that I usually disagree with the fundamentals of their message. Nor do I belong to the camp that feels that Christians need to water down the challenge of the Gospel. God is love, indeed, but we also have to preach about sin and hell and judgment, and the danger of not accepting his free offer of salvation.
No, it’s about presentation. It’s about the fact that there is no use in battering unsaved sinners over the head with the fact of their sin. I cannot show them their sin and neither can you. Why? Because we’re sinners ourselves. They need the mirror of God’s perfection to see themselves in that light.
So, when Christians speak on moral issues, we do not need a John Knox to remonstrate with people for their sin.
We need those who are gifted with diplomacy and, yes, the wisdom of serpents, tempered with the gentility of doves. Every man or woman who professes faith is not destined to champion it effectively in the public arena, and we have to find ways to channel gifts prudently.
I would like to see, for example, more female Christians being encouraged to speak on issues like abortion. It sits uneasily with me when the pro-life lobby is represented by men. Yes, they have as much concern and as much right to a view; but that’s not the point.
Knox, no doubt, would be very willing to speak about protecting the unborn child – but that doesn’t mean he would be the best person for the job. Whether we like it or not, perception is important, and we do nothing to win over the hearts of a hostile world by playing up to the stereotypes.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not actually talking about gender. This is not me saying, “Shut up, men, and let the girls talk.” What I’m trying to say is that we need to get better at representing our cause, by equipping our people to speak. There has got to be love, grace, intelligence and common sense. And, yes, there has got to be strategy.
The Church needs people who walk with God, who pursue a holy life, and who are chiefly concerned with glorifying him. However, the world needs a Church that can speak comfortably to it, in ways and words it will understand.
We are not going to win souls with another rough wooing.