Katie Hopkins recently tweeted: “Call me what you wish. Islamophobe. Bigot. Racist. Vile. It matters not. What matters is the fight back for our Christian culture which we so desperately need to defend.”
In the tweet she presented herself as someone who has no thought for her own reputation, someone only concerned with protecting a Christian culture in dire need of a hero to defend it.
But what exactly does Hopkins mean by ‘our Christian culture?’ I suspect that, jumping on the same bandwagon as Donald Trump, she is referring to a version of nominal Christianity, where we sing Jerusalem; hark back to the glory days of the Empire; and imagine God as an old, white man who, as novelist Anne Lamott would say, hates all the same people we do.
Christianity has long been used to justify whatever is politically expedient at the time: the crusades, slavery, colonisation, keeping the poor ‘in their place.’ And now, it would seem, Brexit. A cursory glance through Hopkins’ Twitter feed reveals an agenda that appears to be much more about stirring up moral outrage to fuel a particular kind of politics, than following in the footsteps of a brown, Middle Eastern rabbi.
Father Greg Boyle, of Homeboy Industries (the world’s largest gang intervention and rehabilitation programme), argues that “Moral outrage is the opposite of God; it only divides and separates what God wants for us, which is to be united in kinship.” He goes on to suggest that the bedrock foundations of Christianity are the four things Jesus took the most seriously: inclusion, non-violence, unconditional loving kindness and acceptance.
Throughout the gospels Jesus specifically includes those on the margins. He goes out of his way to stand with the Samaritan woman and the tax collector; the destitute widow and the leprous outcasts; the blind man and the haemorrhaging woman; the children and the 5000 strong crowd who needed lunch. “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” he said, “I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25: 35-36). Jesus identifies so strongly with the image of God he finds in other people that he is able to tell his followers – any time you’ve done this for someone else, you’ve done it for me.
The actions of Jesus are always rooted in his unconditional love. This love is not a mushy feeling but a robust acceptance that values people as they are and promotes their wholeness – or shalom – regardless of their race, religion or skin colour; regardless of their disability, gender or sexual orientation; regardless of whether they are friend or enemy.
I find it interesting to notice how often Jesus reached out and touched people in the gospel stories. He doesn’t take the moral high ground or send good thoughts and prayers from afar. Rather, he was up close and personal, calling people by name, reassuring them with a healing touch, physically present in their lives.
We have a beautiful example of what it means to create a kingdom culture in the person of Jesus. Rather than setting out to defend our values, as the Church we are called to embody them, acting as Jesus in the world, showing that there is an alternative to the dominate cultural narrative of fear, exclusion and hatred.
This is, of course, a subversive and dangerous way to live. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, which invariably means bad news for those who are used to having wealth and power at their disposal. But Jesus refused to be co-opted into the political agenda of his day. He embraced non-violence and compassion all the way down, even at the expense of his own life. As Father Greg writes, he “just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified—whichever came first.”
Being transformed into the image of Jesus is not easy. Perhaps it means there are parts of us that need to die too: our prejudices, our selfishness, our moral outrage, our judgement of those who are different from us. Perhaps it means we need to accompany those in our own communities who live on the margins: our gay colleague, our disabled family member, our immigrant neighbour. It may not be an easy road, but the kingdom of God calls us to nothing less than living in the fullness of the extravagant love of God and offering the same love to everyone around us. And who knows? Such radical, inclusive, selfless love might just change the world.
Abby King is a writer, teacher and avid reader from Birmingham