Happy Easter! Today we celebrate the resurrection of someone executed by a brutal empire; a radical persecuted by an unholy alliance of political oppressors and religious hypocrites; a prophet who challenged the social, economic, religious and sexual conventions of his day and pointed the way to love, equality and the Kingdom of God.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
As the Catholic peace activist Chris Cole puts it, Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate act of civil disobedience. When you’re executed by the state, you’re supposed to stay dead.
People who are likely to disagree with this view include George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who has swung rapidly to the right since “retiring” eleven years ago. Yesterday, Holy Saturday, the Daily Mail published an interview in which Carey accused David Cameron of betraying Christians. British Christians, he said, had been left feeling like a “persecuted minority”.
Carey can, on almost any day he wishes, rise from his seat of privilege in the House of Lords (he’s now a life peer) to complain about the treatment of Christians in the UK. He can complain about anti-Christian persecution in the only country in the world that allows Christian bishops to sit unelected in its legislature and vote on legislation. He can rush off to powerful and wealthy media corporations to run sympathetic interviews with him in their newspapers. And he can visit the third of state-funded primary schools that are explicitly Christian.
Christians have of course been persecuted in Britain for centuries – by other Christians. Catholics persecuting Protestants, Protestants persecuting Catholics, Anglicans persecuting dissenters, pro-war church leaders persecuting Quakers – the list goes on.
When people talk about Christians being persecuted in the UK today, they usually move very quickly to talk about sexuality. Carey defends the “right” of Christians to deny equal civil rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It is not equality he seeks, but inequality.
Thankfully, other Christians, including many Anglicans, have better reasons to challenge David Cameron today. The Baptist Union, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church have issued a joint statement slamming the cuts to social security benefits that will come into force tomorrow (1 April). A number of Christians in other denominations have spoken up on the same issue.
David Cameron has used Easter Day to speak of “Jesus’ legacy of generosity” – the day before slashing benefits for the poorest people in the UK, while leaving the rich untouched. Billions are thrown into military spending, the rich siphon off their wealth to tax havens and the poor are punished for the sins of the rich. In a society of massive inequality two thousand years ago, Jesus took the side of the poor and marginalised, challenging the rich and powerful to change.
I am delighted that these denominations have taken this stand and that the media have noticed it. I would be even more pleased if they would follow through their commitment to equality by backing equal marriage. Jesus demonstrated relationships based on equality and love, not convention or control. The same principle is true in both marriage and the economy. But they’ve spoken out at a crucial moment and I won’t be stingy in my praise.
Christ is risen indeed. Happy Easter!