Saturday, July 17, 2010

Salt of the Earth or Dangerous Fanatics?

In 1833 slavery in Great Britain ended. For eighteen years William Wilberforce had lobbied against the slave trade and had introduced anti-slavery motions in the British parliament. Finally the law to end the slave trade had ended in spite of the opposition of influential people who profited by it. After this success Wilberforce worked to make education accessible to all children and was involved in the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. William Wilberforce was an Evangelical Christian.
Three hundred years before Wilberforce, Thomas More, a Roman Catholic lawyer, was Lord Chancellor of England and Henry VIII's right-hand man. Because More would not acknowledge Henry's divorce from Katherine of Aragon and would not recognize the King as the Head of the Church in England over the Pope, the King had him beheaded. Before his execution More proclaimed, 'I die the King's servant, but God's first.'
Obviously these politicians did not believe they should leave their religious beliefs outside the doors of parliament.
Closer to our own time, Father Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish priest, boldly criticized the politics of Hitler in his newspaper and hid 2,000 Jews, saving them from the Nazis. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, participated in the resistance movement against the Nazis in his native Germany. Both of these men died in concentration camps because of their actions. Notably, Father Kolbe offered to die in place of a man who was married and had children. Father Jerczy Popieluszko (1947-1984) a chaplain for Poland's Solidarity Movement, was instrumental in the resistance to Communism in his native land. He was killed by the Communist secret police in 1984 and his martyrdom led to the final defeat of Communism in Poland. They were not politicians but Kolbe, Bonhoeffer and Popieluszko took their religious beliefs into the political arena and risked their lives for them.
Lest some think there were no like-minded women, read about Florence Nightingale, who felt that God had called her to be a nurse, a profession that was unheard of for women of her class in the Victorian era. Florence defied convention and not only improved medical care of soldiers during the Crimean War but overhauled the training of nurses in Britain and made nursing a respected profession. An American convert to Catholicism Dorothy Day (1897-1980),began the Catholic Worker Movement to help the poor, many of them immigrants.
Were these people the 'Religious Right' of their day? Were they criticized by their non- believing contemporaries? Did they have a' hidden agenda'? Or were they just trying to be 'the salt of the earth' as Jesus had told his followers they should be?
In today's Canada surely there are those whose tactics even make some of their fellow-Christians cringe. But let us not forget there are still Christians who speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. There are still those who feel it is their responsibility to defend natural law. They may do this by their votes, by petitions, peaceful protests or even by running for political office but as long as they are not disobeying any law in Canada don't they, as taxpayers and Canadians, have a right to free speech? Perhaps we may even look back someday and thank them for the way they helped change society for the better.