I have written in the past that our staff team at St Paul's has dwindled rapidly and indeed we are still without our Careforce Volunteer (stuck in Kenya, visa refused) and our Administrator (no applicants; any takers?). But we do now have a Vicar, Curate, Church Co-ordinator, Music Director, Associate Minister and Youth Minister so we have definitely undwindled.
We were discussing a sermon from the previous evening on Revelation 1 by the Bishop of Coventry. He had suggested (as I have heard many times before) that Christianity comes to the crunch when it is tested by persecution. He illustrated the background to the passage as John, in hiding on Patmos, saw his dramatic vision at a time of great persecution. Christians had had to make their home outside Judaism for the first time. A Roman Emperor had picked a fight with them. Jerusalem fallen. Temple wrecked.
Bishop Colin used as an example a situation in Iraq where Christians, on their way to church, were handed slips of paper saying 'Choose: Islam or death.' That, he suggested, was where your faith got tested. Only recently a Christian friend of his had suffered the bereavement of two cousins, both beheaded for being Christians.
Here's where saying what you think can get you into trouble because nobody wants to belittle a Christian martyr (although we are quite happy to belittle a martyr of any other faith, especially a suicide bomber). I asked:
If someone says to you, 'Choose Islam or death,' why do you have to accept their terms? I don't see how I can be required to make that choice. If I reply in that way, of course, then they kill me anyway so suppose I say, 'I choose Islam' but don't mean it?
Well it is my integrity that is in doubt then, said someone. Is it? And if it is why is my integrity more important than my life? Why do we value truth so highly? In various parts of Africa the hierarchy of values puts family higher than truth.
If someone tells me they will kill me for what I believe then I suggest a lie to save our lives is fine.
The second response to this was that Christians should not be afraid of death and should cling to the assurance of eternal life. We didn't go on to discus this and in all fairness I cannot answer the question whether my suggestion is due to a lack of confidence in eternal life or a certainty about the importance of this life. Maybe both. I am certainly convinced that we value this life too lightly and take insufficient care of it.
Nobody would be found guilty these days on the basis of a confession forced from them under duress. Why can't I insist that the battle between religious ideologies sticks to words - words of peace and love alone? If someone wants to make it a battle of persecution then rather than accepting willing martyrdom I might lie. The church is built on the rock of a three-times denyer. Jesus didn't tell him to leave; he reinstated him. Peter didn't stop loving Jesus when he said 'I never knew him'. He just saved his skin. Jesus knew that. Betrayal in words alone. Cool idea.
The fatal flaw in this argument is that having blogged this how could anyone possibly believe me now if I chose Islam. They'd kill me anyway. Back to the drawing board.