Peter Holmes: Stand up for faith but hold the outrage

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Peaceful protesters outside the KIIS radio station in Macquarie Park on 29 October 2019. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

By Peter Holmes

Another week, another lynch mob howling for the sacking of a public figure after he said something they didn’t like.

Not so long ago it was a mob howling for the sacking of talented sportsman Israel Folau for his tweets suggesting that homosexuals will not go to heaven. Most rational commentators agree that, while Folau’s comments were ill advised at best, punishing someone for expressing their religious belief (or unbelief) is a bad idea.

We recently heard a Sydney radio host express his disbelief that Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and his contempt for anyone who believes it. In the interest of good taste, I won’t name him, his show, or describe his comments in any more detail here. Suffice to say, it is difficult to imagine a more deliberately crafted insult to Christians and their beliefs.

It did not take long for someone to call for Catholics to be outraged, and to demand that all Catholics grab a pitchfork and join the mob howling for his sacking. Let that sink in.

The same mobs who were loudly claiming freedom of religion and freedom of speech for Folau a few short weeks ago are now howling to punish a man who expressed his contemptuous disbelief.

To be fair, I can understand where the outrage is coming from. Public mockery, abuse and persecution of Christians and people of other religions is on the rise. Those Christians who have dared to speak up in public debates in recent times have been abused and shouted down because their religion makes them unwelcome in public debate or public life. Even non-Christian speakers have been shouted down, had events cancelled, have even refused entry to Australia, on the basis that their views were ‘offensive’.

We are sick of it. And this latest outrage might seem (to some) to be a chance to ‘stand up for’ our faith by lashing out at this offensive fellow. But seeking to hurt people who offend us is not the way a decent society, a decent community behaves.

We live in a free country. We should support the right of others to say things I do not agree with, at the same time asserting our right consider the point on its merits and to respectfully disagree.

If I find myself unable, or unwilling to engage with someone, I can make an adult decision to switch off the TV or radio, or just walk away.

As long as we follow Christ, we will continue to be falsely accused, slandered, mocked, insulted and dismissed, just as Christ was. But if we imitate the angry mobs who seek to shut anyone who disagrees with them, we are no better than they are.

We follow Christ; we should model our response on his. He says, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven”.

Peter Holmes is an associate dean and lecturer in theology