It's not always easy to speak out. The "cancel culture" we live in tends to want to shoot down anyone who upsets the status quo. And for fear of being "cancelled" by our friends, our communities, and our networks, we stay silent when we should not. Just this week, one well-known social commentator rained down vitriol on school chaplaincy, condemning it as inappropriate use of government funding (amongst other things). One well-known Christian leader replied, correcting facts that had been overlooked, and offering a far more historically accurate account of the Christian faith in community, giving a defence where others would often fear to tread. It was a thoughtful and robust defence, truthful and firm. In today's society, he is brave. Defending the Christian faith is not an easy thing to do these days. But he would not consider himself brave. Merely a Christian and a historian seeking to offer balance in a world of imbalance.
I wonder how often we keep silent because it is too difficult or risky to speak the truth?
The story of Stephen and his martyrdom is one of the saddest yet most amazing stories of faith in the book of Acts. He speaks out against the Jewish leaders of the time for their treatment of the Messiah, and here is the result:
10But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
Stephen gave them the full history of God's work among their people and the full account of their treatment of God. It was historical instructive and a means to bring them to repentance. He ends with this condemnatory warning:
51“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
Yet the warning only angers them. And the cancel culture of the day was severe:
57At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.59While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Stoned to death, Stephen had only forgiveness in his heart for his murderers. In what is reminiscent for us of Jesus' own words on the cross, the martyrdom of Stephen ends with humility and grace.
It is not enough to speak up with our faith. It is something we really do need to think about more. I think we all know of times we have been silent when we could have said something that may have brought honour to the name of Jesus. But when we do, we need this second step... like my friend's response to the naysayer this week, our response to the world must always be truthful, but also loving, and full of grace. Perhaps sometimes we hold back because we cannot find a way to be all those things at once. Then it is probably better to keep our mouths shut until we can! But surely we need to consider this as something we need to work on in our daily conversations.
Truth, love and grace. How? It's easy to overlook but it's right there in the text - be full of the Holy Spirit. Be full of God's guidance and wisdom. He is where truth, love and grace come from.
Heavenly Father, help us always to stand up for Jesus, with his truth. But help us always to do this with love and grace. In our daily conversations, please guide us by the power of the Holy Spirit - in how we think, speak and act. May we always boldly reflect your character.