I don’t know if the story about the black charity boss and the lady of the bedchamber at Buckingham Palace has gone round the world to you (if you’re outside the UK). You’ll easily find it if not, and I can’t be bothered to describe it in detail.
Suffice it to say that, from glancing at the headlines in the Mail online and finding popular commentators agonising over institutional racism whichever TV channel I flicked to, I quickly gained the impression that the story had “Victimhood Activism” written all over it.
Actually, no – my first impression was how so much of our news is about utterly trivial and imaginary evils, like these confected racial slights, when real racism, such as the shelling of innocent people in Donetsk merely for being Russian, is being done with weapons we paid for, controlled by our NATO advisers. Vaccine deaths, Europe’s economy dying, financial hardship and freezing pensioners are all around us, and the headlines are all about impoliteness at parties or Prince Harry’s obscenely remunerative Netflix vendettas. Greasy kids’ stuff (to quote Dylan).
In this case, a lucky Buckingham Palace guest (they’ve never invited me, although my brother once shook the Royal Glove), who has culturally appropriated both an African name and a weird generic tribal garb, considers herself “abused” by an octogenarian at a party asking her about her family origins. It’s not even clear that she would have known that this lady was “staff,” rather than another guest, let alone a woman with 60 years of loyal unpaid service to the late queen. Yet she has been able to pronounce, from a short conversation, that the Royal Family is ridden from top to toe with institutional racism.
What’s amusing is the number of black commentators, and not just the Nigel Farages, on TV and YouTube, who have called out not the racism of the lady of the bedchamber, but the narcissistic reaction of the mad (their description) charity boss. And most who are not wringing their hands about white supremacism are agreed that the whole incident was pre-planned to serve an intersectionalist agenda.
At this point I will mention my Bible Study group this week, at which one of the members quite appropriately (and unconnected to the above incident, which was not yet in the news) asked, “How would we react if a married gay couple arrived at church, and maybe asked to become members?”
Now this was the selfsame question, discussed at a Church Meeting, that set me on to writing Seeing Through Smoke. Even back then, in early 2019, I realised that to couch the question of such “minority attenders” solely in terms of how to show compassion and acceptance whilst (perhaps!) remaining true to biblical teaching was absurdly simplistic. It is as naive as assuming that thousands of young men of military age arriving in small boats from Albania, having thrown their papers overboard, are simply fleeing abuse (from elderly ladies of the Albanian bedchamber?), and looking to earn an honest penny and benefit a nation they admire. “There is no such thing as an illegal immigrant”… so, not even the murderer fleeing justice or the cocaine baron setting up a new patch?
Of course, it is a wonderful thing if a Muslim, or a transgendered person, or anyone else is drawn to the message of Christ. It’s equally true that such people (like all the children of the world) will be conflicted by the clash of God’s law with the pattern of their current lives, and that this poses perhaps more pastoral challenges than many found in the past, given how counter-cultural the Bible now is. Not since before the Reformation has a country with an established church decided that parts of the Bible are not suitable to be read out in public, as the Crown Prosecution Service recently pronounced.
But those situations are not likely to be where the kind of headlines we read about Christian “hate speech” arise. Do we really imagine that reports are true that even street preachers, let alone parish church members, go round telling people that all gays will burn in hell? It’s the fact that LGBT activists target street preachers by making false complaints to compliant policemen that has led such evangelists to record all their preaching on web-cam.
The recent episode of people walking out of a Catholic service when the preacher, a retired priest, spoke about sin (in general) was a typical case of targeted activism, not bigoted sermons. Just like those climate activists in art galleries, a group of committed activists turned up and made quite sure one of their number filmed their shock and horror, posted it on Twitter, and did the rounds of the news media to get the event into the mainstream, suitably slanted.
I heard, subsequent to that, that a number of people walked out of John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in the US, and though I didn’t follow up the story, I would be willing to bet a Buckingham Palace canape that they were neither regular attenders nor casual enquirers, but a group of activists whose sole aim was to create the story, having decided long before that the church (probably all churches) is riddled with institutional racism, or transphobia, or maybe vaccine denialism.
It’s my firm opinion that if a genuine couple in a gay marriage, suspecting that there is something important to be found in the gospel, turned up at my church, they would be warmly welcomed and respected. What would be more in question is whether we would know how to balance that welcome, in the fullness of time, with the teaching of Scripture. I have no doubt that an ordinary Afro-caribbean person, even if wrong-footed by what are, rightly or wrongly, thought to be clumsy questions by a Palace official, would be able to sort out the faux pas and, in all likelihood, forge an ongoing friendship.
As it was, the real tragedy was how Prince William, whilst making the right woke noises about the unacceptability of such racism, threw his own godmother under the bus. This, too, is a lesson to be learned by Christians, and particularly by church leaders. Today’s temptation is to buy into the Terms and Conditions of the popular narrative. The pastor who punishes an undiplomatic member for tactlessly mentioning biblical teaching on marriage, or the Bishop who suspends a vicar for similar reasons, is potentially doing the activist’s work for him, usually without realising that he has been duped by a far-from-innocent strategy. He will have done nothing to win the lost.
But the stakes are higher for churches than they are for Buckingham Palace. If on the one hand the heir to the throne is found to be foolishly woke, or on the other if the Royal Family actually is institutionally racist, the next but one king may be different, and the “firm” has successfully re-invented itself regularly over the thousand years of its existence.
But the Christian who plays into the hands of activists, through uneducated naivety, is denying not only his own “people,” but God’s saving and eternal word, which was entrusted to him, on loan as it were, to guard jealously, and share openly and fully. All of us are called to be conformed to Christ, not to conform him to human culture.
We need to know our enemy – he may not be flesh and blood, but he regularly uses it to do his destructive work.