This month we lost not one but two men who knew how to make their voices heard. Bob Crow, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and Tony Benn, Labour MP and campaigner, were both outspoken people who engaged in political debate with varying degrees of success.
Their deaths leave an aching gap, which the current raft of left-wing politicians seem too delicate or diplomatic to fill.
Whether you agree with Bob or Tony’s socialist leanings or not, first century Christians did: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4: 32).
Christians at that time did not follow the zeitgeist: they were too much in the minority and their faith, it seems, did not allow it.
During the Roman occupation and the early years of Christianity, Christians would use the excuse of their faith not to take part in communal acts of religion expected of the populace. A Christian author of the time, Tertullian, observed that this non-compliance was considered by many pagans to be the reason for any bad thing that happened; a little like the recent assertions that gay marriage led to all the flooding.
While Christian non-compliance did not lead to the downfall of the Roman empire, the fact remains that many Christians did not comply with the edicts of their political leaders. Jump forward 2,000 years and we are, in the main, compliant. It’s easier that way isn’t it?
When I start to consider the things that I think are wrong about our society: economic inequality, continued discrimination despite lip service to the contrary, a lack of institutional forgiveness, I see that these are things Jesus deplored as well. But I also see that Christianity as a modern movement is not one in heart and mind.
Many Bible verses, both in the Old and the New Testament, posit that we should submit to our masters, or pray for God’s will rather than take up our own arms or action in protest. But the Christians living the New Testament didn’t have Bible verses to hold them back.
Peaceful protest doesn’t mean keeping quiet. And non-compliance can be as powerful as action – think how disruptive train strikes can be.
Bob Crow and Tony Benn were both atheists, but they spoke up against injustice, inequality and the things they believed could be so much better in a way that would have had first century Christians living the socialist dream, in their shared accommodation, cheering them on.
Consider the injustice that you see in our modern world. And then consider: how much louder do you think God would want us to speak up against it?