Jesus, Salman Taseer and The EastEnders Principle

5 01 2011

What links Jesus, EastEnders and the assassination of Salman Taseer? Death and bloody revenge, of course. In EastEnders, the common link that binds unlikely people together in loyalty is ‘family’. Family unity, though always stretched, becomes stronger during persecution. If you attack my family, then we will attack you. It is the classic revenge cycle. Let’s call it The EastEnders Principle.

The assassination of Salman Taseer also follows The EastEnders Principle, only this time it is much more deadly. And it is not about family unity, but religious unity. You insult my religious community, and I will attack you. Mr Taseer spoke up for a Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, a woman from the only Christian household in their village accused of blasphemy – insulting the Prophet Muhammed – and sentenced to death. He spoke up for her, and has paid with his life.

Religion often seems to follow The EastEnders Principle. Religion seems to be concerned with preserving and protecting dogma, beliefs, reputation. Extremist Islam certainly does. Insulting the Prophet Muhammed or the Qu’ran cause such grievous insult that the only response is angry revenge. It is within this sort of ‘justice’ environment that ‘an eye for an eye’ seemed so radical to the Israelites, as it limited angry revenge to a like for like system instead of limitless mob justice.

Jesus shows us a completely different way of responding to grievous insult. He was mocked, beaten and murdered, responding with calm, peaceful words of forgiveness. When his friend Peter tried to respond violently at his arrest, he rebuked him and healed the wounded soldier. After being raised to life Jesus didn’t seek out his betrayers or his executers to teach them a lesson.  Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus wouldn’t allow us to justify anger as a religious principle because he said that harbouring angry thoughts is tantamount to murder, as harbouring lustful thoughts is tantamount to adultery.

So when people insult Jesus or the Bible, our response is not to follow The EastEnders Principle and seek revenge. Some Christians want to. Some Christians think we should tackle extremist Islam with equal violence, for fear of being ‘taken over’ and ‘defeated’. And when you are the only Christian in the village, when you are surrounded by extremist Muslims, it must feel like a war. But we do not support extremist Christian responses that include violence, because followers of Jesus follow Jesus, and he wasn’t violent. I do not say that lightly however, because I do not know what it is like to be in that position.

I believe we are called to take a stand, but a peaceful stand. Following Jesus’ example in the face of humiliation and persecution, we stand; and when we have done that, we still stand, with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6). Our only offensive weapon? The sword of the Holy Spirit. And praying always.

Insulting Jesus cannot defeat him; it cannot wound him any more than he was; and nothing can hold him in the tomb. Jesus was and is raised to life. So we do not need to be afraid. We do not need to seek revenge. We need only to love in the face of hurt and hate.

We can only do that when we are filled with his life-soaked, resurrection love.

Which doesn‘t happen very often in EastEnders. As a principle.


We can support Christians who suffer like Asia Bibi through organisations like Open Doors, not in a partisan us vs. them way but peacefully challenging injustices to the Christian minorities around the world. We can support Christians working for people of all religions in challenging environments like Iraq, Israel & Palestine through organisations like BibleLands.


suffering fouls gladly

1 10 2010

When the most interesting statistic in a football match  is “fouls suffered” you know things are bad. That was my experience watching Valencia vs Man U on Wednesday. And Utrecht vs Liverpool on Thursday come to think of it. A waste of 90 minutes? Arguable! Intending to switch my brain off, I was bored so I began to think. Isn’t that an interesting thing to count. And interesting language. Are fouls suffered? Or received, experienced, taken?

there he goes again

Players have different attitudes to suffering fouls. For some, the slightest touch is enough to bring them diving majestically to the floor sporting toddler-style tantrums. Think Drogba. Or it brings an angry retaliation. Think Rooney.  Other players are built of stronger stuff and suffer fouls more gladly. You get knocked down, and you get up again. You are, after all, playing a contact sport. Think John Terry (on a good day!). How they respond to those fouls will often define them as players.

Following Jesus brings up some similar issues, for leaders yes, but for everyone else too. We know we will be fouled, sometimes badly, sometimes innocuously. It is how we respond to those fouls that define us as followers of Jesus.

There’s much biblical precedent for expecting to be fouled, on purpose or not. Prophets, preachers and ordinary people are repeatedly ignored, mocked, confused, disheartened; and more seriously beaten, imprisoned, executed. So the odd (or frequent) argument, hurtful comment, draining conversation, thoughtless remark, conflicting vision, broken window, verbal abuse or black dog of lingering depression are to be expected. Anticipated. But, I hasten to add, not yearned for to earn “bruise badges” to show how tough or effective we are, nor milked to gain attention or sympathy we feel we deserve.

Sometimes we will need to take time out and rest. Sometimes get straight back up and run it off. Sometimes we will have the wind knocked out of us. Sometimes we will be tempted to make more of it than we need to – for a rest, for some attention, because we’re irritable, or because there’s been so many small fouls we’ve ignored that we’re darn well gonna milk this one.

Maybe we could follow the lead of the Psalmists, whose God led them through the valley of the shadow of death towards green pastures. Fouls come, knocks come, bruises come. But by the grace of God we can carry on, learning, parrying, sometimes weeping and sometimes not seeing a way through but always hoping there is one. Because how we suffer the fouls will define us.

And if we really need to be things put in perspective, watch this:

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