Helen Parry of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity considers the example of John the Baptist
With thanks to the resources of parishpump.co.uk
And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
There are Christians this very day in prison for their beliefs, some in daily expectation of death. They have not deliberately courted martyrdom. In most cases, they have simply sought to live out their faith in a society that allows no dissent from the official religion or ideology. In some cases, they have, like John, spoken out about the evils practised by those in authority.
John’s mission in preparing the way for the coming of the Lord was to call people to repentance, and he didn’t shrink from confronting the king himself about his forbidden marriage with his brother’s wife.
None of us today has a unique mission like that of John. Nor do we, in Britain, live in a country in which our lives are in danger if we speak out about the evils of our society. But – hypothetical though the question may be – I sometimes wonder how long I would hold out if under pressure to renounce my Christian faith. Could I endure torture? And, if so, for how long? What if I was threatened with a lingering, painful death? What if my children were tortured in front of me? How would I fare?
In spite of the fundamental liberties that are enshrined in our law, there are, these days, increasing attacks on freedom of speech. Christians feel a creeping unease about assaults from militant atheists and adherents of other religions. So, our present dilemma is more subtle. Afraid of giving offence, or of being labelled ‘fundamentalist’, many mainstream Christians have remained quiet about the wrongs and injustices in our society or workplaces, and in the face of misrepresentation and ridicule. Paul sums up Christian witness like this – that ‘you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life’ (Philippians 2:15-16). The Gospel is indeed the word of life for everyone, and if we are not ready to offer it, nobody else will.
The simplest way to avoid being shot at is to keep our heads well below the parapet. After all, if we make ourselves invisible nobody will bother to shoot at us. And what might John – or Jesus – have to say about that?