I was at the Church and Media Conference yesterday. It’s a sort of boutique conference for Christians who work in media, PR and journalism and yesterday, one of the contributors was the much vilified (and in some circles, equally lauded) commentator and columnist Katie Hopkins.
The conference itself had taken some flak for inviting her (though she was not being paid for the appearance) and I have to admit, I was intrigued to hear what she would say. My whatsapp was pinging away with a couple of friends who wanted to know what was happening; what was she like? Was it all just ‘front’ and ‘show’? Was she really as nasty and as unpleasant as some had said?
After a robustly honest introduction, Katie walked onto stage with a decidedly wary wave and chatted in a way which seemed almost vulnerable. She talked about her nocturnal epilepsy, how the fits cause frequent arm dislocations (she’s been to A&E 34 times in the past 12 months to have her limbs put back into place) and she also explained the context of some of her more inflammatory tweets. There was a point, looking around the room, where I caught a few heads nodding slightly in agreement. I had to admit, when put into proper context (away from the flash-fire of Twitter), even if you disagreed with what she said, she seemed to have at least thought through her arguments.
She said that she was always up for a good debate and even if people disagreed with her, she defended their right to say what they wanted to say. If, after all, we truly value freedom of speech, then we need to be allowed to say the un-sayable. This was a theme which seemed to run through the conference but as one of the other contributors earlier put it;
I defend your right to say the un-sayable, but I don’t necessarily share your willingness to do it.
She also talked about her clash with faith. She isn’t a believer although her husband is a Catholic and she’s hoping that his faith will entitle her to a ‘free pass’. Her biggest struggle with religion is the amount of conflict she believes it causes, plus the fact that she can’t reconcile a loving God with the idea of incredible human suffering. It was, despite some of the noise and fluff around the subject, interesting to hear someone chat so (apparently) honestly about their perception of ‘God’.
She was challenged (from the audience) about the fact that she seems to attack people online, and makes a good living from the process. She agreed – yes, she does make a good living and yes, controversy is the currency she deals in. She ultimately sees herself as a ‘warrior’ against the ‘PC brigade’ and so uses the kind of language which she believes is the only way to really make a point that will be heard.
So far, so honest and things were ticking along in a seemingly calm fashion until Katie ended the interview with a flip comment; because she now has over 600k followers on Twitter, she is the ‘new Jesus’. There was a sort of collective ‘ohh’ in the room and I saw a couple of journos grab their tablets…they had to rush this one out. And as you might have spotted, that comment has today made it to the Guardian, Metro, the Express and plenty of other newspapers.
Reading through the headlines this morning, I found it really fascinating to have been in the room when it was said and know that it was just one small point in a bigger discussion and yet, it was the only thing reported. To be fair to news outlets (who have sales and reach targets), this is a great headline. It’s almost bound to cause moral outrage and a whole heap of likes, shares and subsequent publicity for the outlets who print the story.
But as I read some of the (perhaps understandably) outraged comments from angry believers, I wonder if we’d played right into the hands of something Katie had already said? She said she is not a believer, partly because of all the tension and conflict that she believes religion causes. You could argue that she has caused the conflict with a no-doubt pre-planned and carefully orchestrated comment to a room of religious journalists, but I have to wonder, do we have a responsibility to not react?
Rather than ranting online, personally, I’d rather ask Katie if she understands what it really means to ‘be Jesus’.
She’s right in the understanding that Jesus always spoke the truth. In fact, Jesus was much-loved but also much hated (to the point of death) because He challenged the status quo, said incredibly uncomfortable things and definitely poked deeply at the establishment.
But here’s the key difference, He came to save the world, not to set it on fire with anger and recrimination. He came to speak the truth, so that lives could be transformed, that darkness could be exposed so the world could be all that it was created to be. He spoke the truth, but without a hint of bitterness or venom. He hung out with the weak and vulnerable and the ones that the rest of society hated. He encouraged change and promised a fuller life which didn’t involve falling back into old, repeated sin patterns.
2000 years on, He’s still worshipped the world over as the force who changed a generation and every generation since. Because the truth is, when Jesus really speaks into your life, it doesn’t cause moral outrage, tears of devastation or a sense of being bullied. His voice is the voice of calm challenge, one that demands a response, which in turn can lead to a completely brand new life.
So no, Katie Hopkins is not the ‘new Jesus’. The one we already have, is the only one worth following. We never needed a ‘new’ one.