Radicalism

Dear Friends,

In a speech earlier this year, Theresa May said that it is not enough to tackle violent extremism. She said: “We need to address the whole spectrum of extremism.”

Radicals are Dangerous

The Government says that extremism is “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”. The Prevent strategy defines ‘British values’ as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of di erent faiths and beliefs.”

Thank God we have a government determined to tackle the threat of violent extremism – but we might feel a bit nervous about the fuzzy language. There seems to be a failure to make the distinction between respect for people and respect for ideas. We believe everyone is made in God’s image and so we seek to respect and love everyone, whatever their background or beliefs. But no-one can say that they respect the views of everyone about anything. It’s stretching language to say that an atheist respects faith in God – he may respect the person who holds the belief but he thinks the belief itself is nonsense. And in a free society, he is free to do so.

The worry is that under the Government’s de nition, some Christian beliefs could be seen as opposed to British values. It is concerning that the Government has entertained the idea of giving Ofsted power to inspect church youth work for signs of ‘extremism’.

Christians are Radicals

But there is a sense in which as Christians we really are radicals. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said he could be viewed as an extremist because he believes the “kingdom of God outweighs everything else”. There are many examples of Christian men and women who, although they rejected violence, were labelled extremists because their beliefs challenged the cultural consensus – people like William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, Josephine Butler and Rosa Parks. Christians are radically loving… or at least we should be!

Christianity is radical kind of radicalism

We worship the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and if push comes to shove we will choose to follow Him rather than anyone else – that’s radical! This means that Christians will always feel the need to swim against the tide in various ways and to speak out against evil. Christian in uence has often improved society, particularly for the vulnerable – from the Roman Empire (where Christian in uence led to the outlawing of infanticide, abortion and gladiatorial contests) to the British Empire (the abolition of the slave trade), Christian radicalism paved the way.

But it is also a radicalism that respects the authority of governments (listen to Leon’s very helpful sermon on Romans 13 from a few weeks ago) and which is driven by love.

‘Fundamentalism’ generally refers to those who advocate violence. But everyone holds certain fundamentals to be true. Whether your particular brand of fundamentalism is dangerous or not depends on what your fundamentals are. What if one of your fundamentals is love? If you let that fundamental seep into your bones, you’ll end up believing all kinds of radical things… You may even start looking for ways to ‘love your enemies and to do good to those who hate you’.

Friends, that really would be radical.

With love in Christ,

Joe Dent
Rector