Yes, I know this is post is dated. It's been well over a year since the news story about actor Liam Neeson quoted as saying the following during an international press conference for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyae of the Dawn Treader:
"Aslan symbolises a Christlike figure, but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me."
Neeson brilliantly voices the character Aslan in all three Narnia films, and he is also an active Roman Catholic.
I read the outrage from various sectors of the Christian community for days after; it was painful and disappointing. I kept the story (linked above) on my desktop to this very moment; I will continue to keep that story on my desktop in the months to come. Why?
Because it is a sobering reminder of exactly the kind of behaviour Jesus, and later Paul and other apostles, warned His Church against:
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" Jesus says early in Matthew's Gospel.
St. Paul picks up on this theme at the very beginning of Romans when he says, "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed."
St. James too says, "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?"
And finally Jesus illustrates this concept of hasty, self-righteous judgment best when a Jewish mob is ready to mercilessly stone Mary Magdalene. Jesus intervenes and cuts the crowd, and our own judging actions, down with these words: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her."
Do we wish that Mr Neeson would have courageously planted his Christian flag in that place and made a bold confession of faith? Certainly! Would it have been a proud and profound moment for Christians as one of Hollywood's most popular and hard-working actors took a gallant stand, just as the character he voiced would? Absolutely!
But instead he spoke tamely, as we all too often do, and that's a large reason why so many Christians felt the need to unfairly tear into the man--because he didn't confess the faith to the world as we do in the echo chamber of our minds and relative safety of our homes. We far more prefer to place others on public pedestals that we know we cannot stand upon ourselves.
What Mr Neeson could have used more of from the Christian community is an embrace of encouragement (public and private) as well as an understanding of his context:
1) Mr Neeson was under contract to a major film studio and professionally responsible to others involved in the filmmaking;
2) Mr Neeson was tasked with helping to ensure the film gets a healthy return on the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested in it--quite the amount of pressure;
3) Mr Neeson has a career and a family and we all know how these can be exploited and manipulated by all kinds of parties inside and outside Hollywood, not to mention those violently opposed to Christian doctrine--literally and politically, domestically and internationally.
These are not excuses, these are facts of the modern world and the realties of working in 21st century entertainment. And Mr Neeson did nothing that day we do not all do ourselves, regularly.
That's the broken nature of our flesh. Our bodies are deeply corrupted with this disease--sin--and the devil knows just how to use it to bind our tongues in fear when a confession of faith is needed in our workplaces and schools and communities and churches.
Do you not think that Mr Neeson will remember this backlash the next time he is placed in a difficult position? What about other Christians that witnessed this backlash? How alone we made him feel--and likely others just like him throughout entertainment. Perhaps our failures to support him, and be critical of other Christians of fame in the past, led him to tame his witness in that moment and in that environment (and it will impact others too from music to sports). Do you think our public flogging of Mr Neeson will help him in his faith? Or could our harsh criticism potentially do it damage and make him recoil even further when the media comes calling with another such question? We fail to see that such public scorchings of our fellow members of the Body of Christ only serve the purposes of our enemies exponentially. And while we judge each other in public forums for failures that we ourselves are also fully guilty (and if not in confession of faith, or public support of others attempting/failing to do so, then surely elsewhere--for "none are righteous, no not one" and "all have fallen short of the glory of God"), we forget the handful of powerful ways to combat this fear, temptation of self-righteousness, and deadly spiritual assault by our foes on Christians everywhere.
One is prayer, for the strength to endure trials and have trust in God to all ends. Prayer isn't just to tell God what our wants and needs are, prayer is especially to be used for others needs and wants--even if that person doesn't perceive them. We don't pray enough as God's people--and I'm not talking about those public spectacles on National Prayer Day or other such activities. I'm talking about the kind of prayer that God loves best: privately, in a room behind a closed door [Matthew 6:6] or whilst walking among God's wonderful creation [Psalm 23], or corporate worship with fellow Christians [2 Corinthians 1:11].
Another is to build each other up in love and understanding--it's called the life of the Church invisible. Mr Neeson has only seen the harsh lawful side of Christendom when he could have far-benefited from an embrace and loving encouragement that we have his back. Such an action would have been a profound witness to him (for future times he is placed in a situation) and to the public and media (who love to pit Christians against each other in a kind of heinous modern gladatorial arena). It is my hope and prayer that Mr Neeson has found the strength in Christ to forgive his fellow Christians for our behaviour and lacking vocal support, and that his faith in our Saviour has not been diminished over the months by all this and will not be in the years to come.
There are only three things that should be our daily fervent concern: 1) repentance and a renewal of our spirits--all through faith in Christ [John 6:28], 2) prayer for ourselves and all people for the gift of salvation in Christ, to remain firmly in it [Ephesians 1:3-14] and that it mat be received by all who hear its saving message, and for God's blessings, and 3) encouragement and witness for the purpose of strength against the devil and the world among each other [Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Thessalonians 5:11]
My grandmother told me many times as child: "Josh, never point at someone (to accuse). Because there are always three fingers pointing right back." Instead of pointing fingers at each other how about pointing a finger to the cross where Jesus suffered and died a gruesome horrible death--punishment because none of us can live up to the standards of the Law by ourselves.
And then let's point our finger to the empty tomb, where we remind our enemies that by the Father's raising Christ from the dead we have Victory! over all that oppose His Church.
And finally let us point to the Word, Baptism, and Holy Communion--the means of grace whereby our faith is nurtured and strengthened, and also our neighbor's faith. The bulwark of witness, mercy, and life together--Christ--stands firm against the attacks of our enemies and it is in the safety of Christ our foundation that we find our strength and refuge. May it be that we remind others of this bulwark when they need it (instead of being the first to pound our chests in act of misguidedly pious public crticism), and that we would be helpfully reminded in kind of Its presence when we need it--this can only be done through witness, not judgment.
[Please consider Dr. John Kleinig's indispensible book, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, for a pointed and accessible guide to all of us for being better witnessing and praying Christians.]