How to take offense

Letter from the Minister – How to take offense.

As I write, the western world is still reeling in the aftermath of the shocking events that took place in Paris in early January, when seventeen people were gunned down by Islamist extremists in a brutal attempt to avenge the honour of their prophet. More than a million people took to the streets to declare their outrage at such a cowardly attack on their commonly held values of freedom of speech, and armed police are now everywhere, as the security forces attempt to allay fears of further shootings.

In times of high emotion it is often difficult to take a step back and ask the bigger questions that such events raise for us as Christians. One of the paradoxes I’ve been trying to grapple with is that while, in a free world, everyone should have the right to publish without fear of attack, with that right should come the responsibility to be sensitive about the impact of what is being published, particularly on those people who already feel marginalised and oppressed by the society the publication represents.

At the centre of the controversy is a French satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo, which specialises in mockery. Over the years their ruthless brand of humour has stretched to encompass politicians, celebrities, and religions. Nothing wrong with that, we say, except that in recent years, as their sales have decreased, their cartoons have become deliberately more provocative and offensive.

There is a debate to be had about the role of satire and mockery in public life, for even in the west there are some areas (e.g. race and disability) where the mockers no longer dare to stray. In our secular culture, however, a person’s closely held religious views are now seen to be ‘fair game’. And so, I often find that my own personal beliefs and values are the target of those who make a living out of offensiveness and ridicule.

Clearly, the response of those Islamist extremists to the insults they were enduring was not the right one. But, if that is the case, what is? Here are some timeless words from a close friend of mine*, that have given me much food for thought over the years, and increasingly so in the last few weeks.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” 

With much love,


*(Matthew 5.11-12, 38-39, 43-4)