I wonder if you remember the TV series “Yes, Minister” and how the senior civil servant, Sir Humphrey, (played brilliantly by Nigel Hawthorne) used to respond when the Minister, Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington), was about to do something he thought unwise.

As I recall, he would listen carefully as Hacker explained what he wanted and then he would smile and say, with (seemingly) great sincerity, what a ‘courageous’ decision the Minister was taking. Of course, this was always a psychological ploy to make the Minister think again – courageous being code for unwise, unpopular, doomed to failure…

Throughout our recent series “Hot Topics”, I have been told several times that running the series was, yes, you guessed it, a courageous thing to do. In this case, I am quite sure that unlike Sir Humphrey, the people saying this were sincere and I am very grateful for their kindness. I know what they mean, because tackling the issues we have tackled was always likely to bring up some differences of opinion and in a sense it would be easier to stick to topics everyone would agree on and not risk any disunity.

After all, unity is rightly held high in the church, and Jesus specifically prayed for it before he went to the cross. You’ll find this in John chapter 17, which by the way is one of the most significant passages in my own journey of faith. Here’s what John records Jesus saying –
John 17:20-23 (New Living Translation)
20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

So, since Jesus prayed for perfect unity among those who believe in Him, does that mean we have to agree about everything, or avoid sticky subjects that might divide opinion? I don’t believe so.

The reality is that in any group of Christians, there will be a variety of opinions about lots of things, so really the question comes down to whether we should talk about our differences or not. Should we discuss, debate and prayerfully reflect on things, alone and together, or sweep them under the carpet, pretend they’re not really there? Of course, that’s a rhetorical question, and you’ll know my answer, but let me elaborate a little.

When Jesus prayed for “perfect unity”, I don’t think He meant that we have to agree about everything. Trivially, we can disagree about lots of things – the best film ever made, the Rolling Stones or the Beatles, the best Captain of the Starship Enterprise, and so on. Quite obviously, the answers to those questions are ‘Casablanca’, the Rolling Stones, and James T. Kirk but… opinions vary, and I don’t think Jesus is bothered.

Last Sunday, I confess to being slightly exasperated as I tried to find a compromise even about the degree to which the back doors of the hall should be open! Opinions varied. Wide open for ventilation to guard against Covid-19, or nearly closed to stop people getting chilled with the cold? Heating on to keep people warm, or heating off to save energy, what with the doors being open and all? Opinions varied. Argh!

Maybe Jesus would have chuckled at my expense over that one (I think God has a great sense of humour!) but I don’t think that was what He was driving at when He prayed for “perfect unity” either.

What about bigger issues then – the kind of things we have been looking at throughout “Hot Topics”? We covered four specifics in the series:

  • Racial Justice
  • Disability
  • Abortion
  • Climate Change

I don’t think for one moment that we have all emerged from the experience in “perfect unity” on any of these issues, and frankly, I never thought we would (if you don’t believe me, check out my previous blog “Hot Topics”, which you can find below). Honestly, I don’t think Jesus would mind that we don’t agree about all the nuances of these issues either!

However, throughout the series, I noticed that some things kept cropping up. For a start, with no planning on our part, the parable of the good Samaritan kept cropping up. There was a great deal of talk about loving our neighbour and reflecting the love and care that God bestows on us to other people, and to show this too in our stewardship of the world around us.

In essence, I hope that what we are perfectly united on is that while we might have our differences of opinion, shaped no doubt by differences in our personal experiences, we can all agree on, share, and live out some fundamental and profound truths.

Those truths are at the heart of the Christian message and the way to live that is set out by Jesus in the Gospels and demonstrated in practice by the first believers in Acts and the letters of Paul and others in the rest of the New Testament.

I think the simplest way to sum it up is by turning to the purpose, mission, vision and values we have set out here at EBC:

Our Purpose
We exist to love God, love people and grow together to become more like Jesus.

Our Mission
Reaching people, making disciples.

Our Vision
A church that people who don’t ‘do church’ love to become a part of.

Our Values
Care. Commitment. Community. Celebration. Communication.

I hope we can continue to debate, discuss, reflect and pray together on all of the tricky stuff of life, guided and shaped by the profound truths that Jesus perfectly revealed. I hope that we can be together a community that really and truly recognizes that God created us all, loves us all deeply and wants us to live a life in all its fullness together, under His Kingship, as His beloved sons and daughters, and as His ambassadors – a holy and royal priesthood, showing and sharing His love with everyone we meet. Can I get an Amen? I hope so – I hope that we would all agree, and endorse and sign up to this manifesto of love that is perfectly demonstrated in the person of Jesus.

If we are united in that… I believe Jesus would say “Perfect!”

We have now concluded the “Hot Topics” series but I want to encourage you to keep the conversations going. Which of the four issues is God prodding and prompting you about? Which might you need to keep wrestling with Him about?

What will you do differently, in the light of these messages and what God is saying to you? If you sense an injustice, whether it’s to do with race, disability, abortion, climate change or all of them, what will you do next?

I want to encourage you to watch the first talks again, and to answer the ‘questions to consider’ either in a Life Group setting, or in smaller friendship groups, or even ponder them in your private moments with God. I know they are challenging and difficult, uncomfortable even. But the Gospel, whilst ‘good news’ is not all easy reading, and Jesus asked searching, challenging, life-changing questions.

When you ponder the questions, and especially when you face the realities of each in your own life (and one way or another, you surely will!) ask yourself this: What does love require of me? In other words, if we really believe that our purpose and calling is to love God and love our neighbour with everything we’ve got… what should our response be when faced with dilemmas and decisions about racial justice, disability, abortion and climate change?

I don’t think it was particularly courageous of me to run a series about these ‘hot topics’ and in fact we’ll likely do another series next year to cover some more tricky issues such as domestic violence, sexuality, death and bereavement – and we may well revisit climate change and abortion too.

The really courageous thing would be for us to stand up and speak out when we encounter these issues in our real lives, outside of the relative safety of the church. One of my favourite quotes is from the actor John Wayne who said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

When that happens, let’s be courageous and ask of ourselves this question: What does love require of you?


Here are some resources for you to consider watching/reading and reflecting on:

1. Racial Justice

2. Disability

3. Abortion

4. Climate Change

  • Two articles on the website of the scientific body, the Royal Society:
Simon Lace, 26/10/2021