I received an e-mail the other day. No – it’s not really that unusual. I do occasionally slink out of digital purdah to check on how the twenty-first century is getting on. I do read e-mails now and again. Just don’t get me started about social media.
Anyway, back to the e-mail. The message that I received came from a company specialising in security doors which they were seeking to market to churches. Unlike many such messages, this appeared to be perfectly genuine – if your church building needs extra security, here are folk willing and able to provide it. They indicated that their products could be purchased with funds provided by the Government’s ‘No Place for Hate’ initiative. This initiative runs alongside the ‘hate crime action plan’ developed by the Home Office. Further research (i.e. clicking a link) revealed that this scheme, which applies to England and Wales, offers help to places of worship with security measures such as CCTV cameras, intruder alarms, perimeter fencing and security doors. Anything, in fact, needed to make your place of worship secure from attack.
The ‘hate crime’ label indicates that one of the concerns behind the project is the possibility of attacks on Christian places of worship by Islamic extremists who regard such buildings with revulsion. That of course is not the only issue since mosques, synagogues and various temples would also be eligible for protection, and the recent resurgence of violent antisemitism in Europe is a reminder that it is not only Christians who may face a threat. Statistics from the International Society for Human Rights, however, indicate that 80% of instances of religious discrimination are directed against Christians, and among those instances are acts of violence.
It is, of course, a sign of the times. Once there was generally a high degree of respect for church buildings and other places of worship, though vandalism did occur and in some places was something of a rite of passage for youngsters. There was broadly, however, respect for the property of those who pursued religious activities, even when their beliefs were written off as incredible. That is changing rapidly in the UK. The ‘No Place for Hate’ initiative is a straw in the wind.
Recent arson attacks on church buildings in Northern Ireland show that the problem is not safely confined to ‘the mainland’. The Government’s concerns no doubt include the threat from Islamic groups, but here we probably have more to fear from local ‘home grown’ hoodlums. The issues aren’t easy – we must be wise stewards of our property, yet we do not want to turn our places of worship into fortresses. ‘Come and join the scared stiff’ is probably not going to be a fruitful evangelistic strategy. A massive package of security measures is hardly a testimony to faith in a sovereign God. A church located in the centre of a city has to take certain basic steps – like remembering to lock doors! – but there have to be limits.
The root problem, of course, is a loss of respect for the God who is worshipped in these buildings. Whether it’s petty vandalism or full-scale onslaught, the message is that of the voices we hear in Luke 19:14 ‘We do not want this man to reign over us’. Although they might never think of it in these terms, they are in fact expressing rebellion against God – any God, given that other religions than Christianity are sometimes the target. They are in fact small-scale examples of the rebellion of the nations so vividly depicted in Psalm 2:2 ‘The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast their cords from us.”’ To describe attacks on churches in such terms may seem to be dignifying petty criminality – ‘pure badness’ as some would describe it – with a grand explanation. Nevertheless when we track the evil actions back to source, that is the poisoned spring from which they flow. Sinners, of whatever kind, are rebels against God, rejecters of Christ, and in one way or another that rebellion will show itself. A brick through a church window comes from a fist shaken in the face of God. As the Saviour warned his disciples in the Upper Room, ‘If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.’ The ‘if’ is not an ‘if’ of doubt but of certainty.
So we take sensible precautions which do not contradict the message we proclaim, but we do so in the assurance that in the face of rebellion ‘He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision’ (Psalm 2:4). In relation to Christ, the hatred of the world served to advance the fulfilment of God’s plan of salvation: It will be no different today. The enemy would be happy to have us cower in fortresses, but he will not succeed. The Word of Life will still sound out for the salvation of sinners and the vanquishing of the opponents of King Jesus.