Last year when 62% voted for same-sex marriage in an Irish referendum I couldn’t get my head around the reason why people, especially so many students, were voting this way. My assistant in the Agapé office at that time, Chloe Douglas, explained it very simply – people want to feel “up-to-date”. She’s right. That seems to be underlying motivation among students who get worked up about LGBT rights, gay blood donation, pro-abortion and Ashers’ cakes.
Whatever you think about the actual issues, young people want to appear “fair” and “escape from old-fashioned religion” and “regressive attitudes”. Indeed Senator Rónán Mullen made the point that last year “many people voted the wrong way for the right reasons”. Numerous of our own student friends felt ostracised when they told people they would vote “No” in the referendum. They felt characterised as fuddy-duddies.
Last month the wife of the president, Sabina Higgins, speaking at Trinity College Dublin, described the limits on abortion in Ireland as “an outrage”. In order the bolster the desirability of being supposedly “progressive”, Biblical concepts are cheaply portrayed as “regressive”.
Nothing regressive about Jesus It’s time we corrected this impression. There’s nothing regressive about Jesus. He didn’t come from the 1950s. He came here from heaven and he is now in eternity. He calls to us from the future – we wait to hear “Well done good and faithful servant”.
And the outlook he taught and exemplified while on earth is nothing short of radical. Want to be progressive? Get with the programme. Get with Jesus. Tired of leaders’ hypocrisy? Jesus will show you a way through it. He reserved his bitterest criticism for hypocritical leaders of organised religion – there’s a whole chapter of it in Matthew 23. He slammed their fancy clothes, their grasping for position, their financial dodges, even their seating at public events – anything sound familiar?
The remarkable thing is that “social justice” is flavour of the month every month on campus. You’d think that students had been reading the prophets until you listen and find that their aspirations for social justice are quite unspecific.
This gives us an instant connection. You can ask, “Why are people important?”, “What is your standard for justice?”, “Do you think everyone should be judged equally?”, “ Including you?”, “What is your standard for morality?”, “Can you live by that standard?” These are questions that only the death of Christ can answer.
Life’s calling Meanwhile the culture wars have not abated. A good student friend in Dublin told me that he is now getting weekly emails from a representative of the Student Union at Trinity College asking him to join a demonstration at the gates of the Dáil to support abortion. Although we do have things to say about such issues this isn’t our life’s calling. Our life’s calling is to make the gospel clear.
But here’s the rub. It isn’t good enough to just to say, “Jesus died for our sins”. I discussed this a few weeks ago with a Belfast student who trusted herself to Christ during this academic year. Her desires are changing – her whole life is changing. She told me “All my life we heard that ‘Jesus died for our sins’ but I had no idea what those words meant. I heard them at Mass, you can read them on tracts on the street but they had no effect on me personally. They had become completely meaningless because they were so familiar”. So what did the trick? She was approached by Agapé team people to take an evangelistic survey and they treated her well.
Student importance Between Christmas and Easter Pam and I took a sabbatical and I studied a simple question: who is running the country? We’ve been thinking about this a lot in Dublin because we recently had an election as the previous government finished its term. That government had included members whom I first met as Student Union presidents when they were students at university in Galway (Pat Rabitte and Eamon Gilmore).
We sometimes talk of students as “the leaders of the future” but some of them are leaders already. In this most recent election to the Irish Senate four of the candidates had been Student Union presidents. Of these four, the person that won, Lynn Ruane, is the current president of the Trinity College Student Union – and now also a senator of the country.
Dare to be a Daniel Just now I’m up to my eyes preparing to teach the book of Daniel to our staff and students this summer at our Biblical Studies conference. It’s great Biblical rallying call to not conform to the pressures of the surrounding society, written by a godly man who served for years in the administration of public life.
And here’s our year’s homework: How to present “Jesus died for our sins” with the same meaning – but in wording fresh enough to have impact. That’s what I call progressive.