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The Rector: Je suis en Christ

The Rector

Bolton Abbey Parish Magazine

February 2015

Je suis en Christ

The justifiable sense of outrage and grief at the murder of seventeen people in Paris last month prompted across Europe a deeply felt outpouring of public solidarity with the principles of free expression. This solidarity was most commonly expressed in the phrase Je suis Charlie, a sign of support both for the journalists who were murdered and, by extension, for the right of the magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ to continue publishing cartoons that depicted Mohammed. One of the consequences of the media’s initial concentration on the massive demonstrations in support of Charlie Hebdo was a comparative lack of emphasis on the murder of a Muslim police officer caught up in the violence, and of four people murdered in a Jewish supermarket in a separate incident. Another consequence, with serious long term implications, was an unfortunate hollowing out of the public debate: anyone who expressed reservations about the offending cartoons was all too readily cast in the role of apologist for the actions of the murderers. A Christian perspective on the events in Paris might helpfully start, not with the right to free expression (which is not, anyway, an absolute right even in France), but with Jesus’s summary of the Jewish Law which includes the command ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. If we set this command alongside Luke’s story of the Good Samaritan , who refused to draw boundaries round his neighbourliness, we begin to see that, by expressing reservations about the publishing of cartoons that are deeply offensive to our Muslim neighbours, Christians are being deeply faithful to our own tradition too. To put this another way, we must never fall into the trap, as the early Christians at Corinth did, of assuming that what is lawful is necessarily beneficial, or conducive to the building up of healthy communities. This is why, despite my abhorrence at the murders of 07 January, I am unable to say Je suis Charlie. I choose to root my identity not in the shifting sands of an abstract secular ideal, but in the person of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.