UK bishop calls on Christians to send out a message that we will not disappear quietly from the marketplace
In his November pastoral letter, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill calls on British Christians to wear crosses publicly and not to be intimidated into hiding them away to demonstrate that they "aren't going to disappear quietly from the market place". He says: “The Christian roots to our governance should not be nibbled away without discussion. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if in December we all wore a fish badge or cross necklace and sent out a loud message that Christians aren’t going to disappear quietly from the market place or put away our crib figures in a hurry.”
It is this part of his letter that the press is focusing on. However, I was interested to note that he doesn’t end there. Bishop Gledhill also notes that there is far more costly sign for Christians to wear than lapel badges and necklaces.
What is the mark of the Christian?
A pastoral letter by the Bishop of Lichfield for November Parish Magazines in the Diocese of Lichfield
We’re just getting to the season when the papers like to report on local councils who, out of concern for ethnic minorities, have banned Christmas in favour of Winterval or another silly name. This year that kind of story is likely to be more than matched by stories of big firms sacking those people who want to wear a cross or a fish lapel badge or some other sign of the Christian faith. It is sheer ignorance of course.
Ethnic minorities are far more anxious about the rampant secularism and commercialism that erodes all Christian standards than they are about their host country properly celebrating its Christian foundations. No one goes to a Muslim country and expects local councils to silence the mosques out of sensitivity to Christians. The Christian roots to our governance should not be nibbled away without discussion. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if in December we all wore a fish badge or cross necklace and sent out a loud message that Christians aren’t going to disappear quietly from the market place or put away our crib figures in a hurry (Though personally I am waiting for someone to invent a retractable fish badge before I put one on the back of the car — my driving is not always something to be proud of).
Recently I shared in a mission weekend in an urban parish in this diocese. The church had thrown open its doors to the wider community and schools, uniformed organisations and many others had come along to take part in the events. There was the wonderful atmosphere of a praying church at the heart of the community. During the Harvest Festival service on the Sunday two newish Christians were interviewed; both of them said that they had joined the church because they had come along as a result of a back-to-church Sunday invitation and similar and had been overwhelmed by the open welcome, the practical help and the sustained friendship they had received. I was reminded of another church and someone saying that they had come to faith because the joyful and self-giving way the people looked after the children in the Sunday School had so touched them that they knew God was real.
What I have discovered afresh this month is that the mark of a real Christian community is not so much the lapel badges and crosses we wear as the spontaneous, generous and practical love we show to the world. Christians should not be intimidated into putting away their neck crosses or lapel badges, but in the end these are not the badges that matter. The mark that matters is far more challenging.