Following Jesus in 2024



Following Jesus in 2024

As 2023 draws to a close and a new year dawns on the horizon I find myself perturbed that 75% of the word’s democracies are facing elections in the next 12 months.

Many years ago I remember walking slowly through the Holocaust exhibition in the Imperial War Museum in South London. It shocked me so deeply that I returned the next time I was in the capital, this time with a notebook in hand. I noted the way what must have once appeared unthinkable became not only possible, but normal. Hatred of Jews, and the despising of non-Aryans and economically unproductive members of society led to a long list of laws that marginalised, discriminated against and eventually persecuted those who were publicly labeled ‘Untermensch’ – those unworthy of life.

I remember travelling home with the very deep awareness that something similar could happen again. Then, after the economic crash of 2008, I began to see very small hints that Nationalism was re-emerging as a political theme, especially as the pressures that led to an urge to migrate began to grow. Since then the issue of immigration has become increasingly politicised, turning nations against each other and dividing populations in every country across the globe.

Such strong feeling produces the perfect conditions for populist leaders with simplistic solutions to complex issues. When people feel fearful they value the promise of certainty and strength. In the autumn of 2023 it was reported that 35% of young people aged 18 to 35 in 30 democracies across the world felt a “strong leader” who did not hold elections or consult parliament was “a good way to run a country”. Understandable frustrations with democracies run by unprincipled politicians are tainting the notion of democracy itself.

In the 1930s the population of Germany suffered together as punitive war reparations, currency collapse and economic depression bit hard. Then, as now, the pressure was to find scapegoats and salvation narratives. And, tragically, the majority of those who called themselves Christians in Germany either approved or acquiesced as the nation embraced Nazi ideology.

But this time it is not just one country seduced by the idea of a strong and determined leader. Whichever direction we look, would-be dictators are queueing up, just waiting to be selected.

Let me be clear. My intention is simply to warn, not to predict. I have no better idea of how this year is going to pan out than you do. Thankfully, 35% is not a majority so there is every possibility that the idealism of our youth will be swayed by positive visions and that they will make bold decisions to embrace hope and reject false binaries and divisive rhetoric.

My plea at the beginning of 2024 is that readers of this blog make an active choice to listen well to those who are asking you to trust them this year. Ask many questions. Use more than one reputable news source and make good use of podcasts that bring balance and contribute background to the simplistic stories we will be fed.

Then please think deeply. Which explanations of the state we are in, and whose visions of the future resonate with the words and actions of Jesus who was clearly mindful of Leviticus 19 when he told those who would follow him to treat everyone with dignity and respect, welcoming the stranger and caring for those others might deem unworthy. Be suspicious of false binaries and always favour kindness.

And as you seek to live authentically, might I suggest that where you place your vote is only a tiny part of the difference you can make this year. Reach out to those who are different to you. Be aware of the probability that your Jewish and Muslim neighbours may well be living in more fear than you realise.

The decision to follow Jesus might cost us more than we think this year. Choose now whose voice you will follow into a new year that will be full of opportunities to be salt and light.

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About the Author

Craig Millward has been a Baptist minister for over 30 years and has extensive experience of the joys and challenges of church leadership.

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