Living in exile

It’s surprisingly common to feel alienated as a Christian in London in 2019. Of course, there’s much to celebrate and enjoy living in this city, but sometimes it feels like there’s a significant clash between our Christian worldview and the secular values around us. 

We’ve just had the Pride celebrations that celebrate progressive sexual ethics which jar with the Christian worldview. I imagine most Londoners don't agree with the Christian sexual ethic. Aside from sexuality, many of our friends and colleagues find it difficult to relate to our belief in God. “Haven’t we moved beyond that?” Or “Surely you don’t believe that?”. They would baulk at some of the choices that we make because of our faith convictions.

As we experience this clash, it’s easy to feel like an outsider – that you don’t belong in this city. This might feel uncomfortable. How should we respond? 

1. Don’t be surprised! In 1 Peter, Peter describes Christians as ‘foreigners and exiles’. He’s saying they belong to a different nation. Even though many of us love living here, there’s a sense to which it’s completely right that this city doesn’t feel like home. Your true home is with Christ. And the fact that you feel uncomfortable at times, or make different choices to everyone else is a sign that you have a higher loyalty to another world. The early church experienced the same pattern of alienation. As they refused to honour the gods of Roman culture and claimed allegiance to a higher king than Caesar, they were excluded from Roman society, experienced significant persecution and even death. This is normal!

2. Don’t withdraw. The easiest thing to do in response to this clash is to withdraw i.e. to immerse yourself in the Christian community and ignore the outside world. It’s easier to be around people who are like you. You don’t have to explain yourself. It’s easier to critique culture from the sidelines. And yet this is the exact opposite of the New Testament model. The early church decided to keep meeting in the temple in Jerusalem, the headquarters of the religious elite who had just argued for Jesus’ crucifixion. They modelled a willingness to push into and engage with their world, driven out of love for their neighbour and a desire for Christ to be honoured by all. We must embrace our colleagues and neighbours, listening and loving them, despite the differences that exist between us. 

3. Don’t assimilate. The other danger for Christians living in this tension is to try and minimise the differences. No one likes to feel different. So we might shift our convictions to fit in. Of course, every generation of Christians must think how to communicate the gospel to their culture, but that doesn’t mean we should compromise what we believe to fit in with everybody else. Not least because it’s the difference that Christ makes in you that will be attractive to those around you. This might be the way that Jesus humbles you, or gives you a distinctive kindness, or even the boldness to share what you believe. If you desire to look like everyone else, what do you have to offer the world?