“Love is patient and kind, love does not envy, love does not parade itself, love does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth”.
These words from 1 Corinthians 13 are known well enough, writes Rev Sydney Maitland, but should be set alongside Matthew 5: 11 –
“Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you, falsely for My sake.”
My point here is that as Christians we should not be surprised when we are misrepresented, our motives are abused and every action is questioned, for whatever happens, we are still urged not to take offense or to deliberately give offense. That does not mean that we should be evasive or mealy-mouthed about the things we believe, and when the opportunity arises to express ourselves in this realm, we should take it.
We should however be aware of another process that is going on around us: that there are groups and interests that go out of their way in their eagerness to be offended, and then to demand satisfaction.
It is a means of enforcing a set of values onto others: individuals or even groups or nations. In this sense it is far more than a means of seeking the remedy to an insult – rather it is about forcing one’s own world view, onto another and demanding their surrender to it, no matter how little discussed or tested in debate that view or philosophy or religion may be. I can only say that I find that this process is manipulative and sinister, and stresses the allegation of an offence above dispassionate consideration of the issue on its own merits. Another expression for this is emotional blackmail which any parent will have encountered from an early age in their children.
The Church and its members have been abused regularly over the centuries, and have been pilloried by some of the greatest writers. Voltaire springs to mind, but I think that Huxley, HG Wells and plenty of others fit into this category. We do not however anathemise them or burn their books. Rather we will look at what they have to say and consider that they may have a point that we should consider more thoughtfully. The church has not been destroyed by such criticism: if it is justified we can acknowledge the fault and if not, tghen we get on with life. We accept it as part of our culture of freedom of speech, including the freedom to offend, and to defend one’s own position robustly.
What concerns me more is the propensity for groups to seek out offense and then to cultivate a rage at it. If a matter really is offensive, how can one justify an approach that says: “Isn’t this awful: just look at it – at length and in detail” or even: “Isn’t it awful – tell me all about it, leaving no detail out, and embroidering as many aspects as you like.”
Having said all that, it is the easiest thing in the world to say “Thank you”, to praise another person, and to look for what is the best in another. If we can do this, then it should not be too difficult to look for the best in the person with whom we may have contrary relations, to pray for them, and to ask the Lord to lead us in being reconciled with that person. We should not however succumb to false guilt or emotional (or cultural or even political) blackmail. Where no fault is established, then no apology should be offered. And we should never endorse what we know to be plainly wrong.
As Paul said in writing to the Romans (12:18):
“If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”