What price opposition?

Two weeks ago a man died in mysterious circumstances.

A brave man, only 47 years old, who had fought for years to provide an alternative view in a country where alternative views are actively discouraged.

Christine Bryant, Lay Minister, St John’s.

He survived one attempt to silence him. After a long and difficult recovery, he picked up the fight again and was imprisoned in the Arctic on spurious charges. He died after taking a walk. I am referring, of course, to Alexei Navalny, the chief thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin. Not a lone voice, but the most consistent voice of opposition who called out Putin and his oligarch collaborators for the harm they do to Russia and the Russian people.

Alexei Navalny is not the only example. Jimmy Lai, the owner of the last independent newspaper in Hong Kong, Apple Daily, is in a Chinese prison, probably for the rest of his days, because he dared to do what a newspaper ought to do – investigate and call out abuses of power and maintain the freedom of the press to do just that.

You might wonder what relevance this has in New Zealand where there is a healthy opposition to the government and media which are able to investigate, report on and invite opinions on any and every aspect of our society. Well, democracy and freedom of the press are both at risk in a world where influencers on social media carry more weight with many than an independent press. These are the people who are seduced down the proverbial “rabbit holes” and believe what is demonstrably untrue.

Witness the two-thirds of Republican supporters in United States who apparently still believe that Donald Trump was cheated out of an election victory in 2020. They are like those in the parable who built their house upon the sand.

More than at any other time, we need to make sure of our facts, as far as we are able. I am reminded of Nicodemus, the learned rabbi and teacher of the law in the days of Jesus. In John 3, we read of how he wanted to find out for himself who Jesus was and what he stood for. He sought Jesus out at night when they could both converse without distraction. Jesus explained to him about baptism, rebirth, the nature of God and the difference between believers and unbelievers.

It is in this account that we find the basis of Christian faith, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John’s account does not reveal exactly how Jesus unpacked this for Nicodemus, but the key message was, and is, God loves, God gives, and God saves.

We do not know what Nicodemus did after this conversation, whether he believed Jesus’s words or whether, as part of the establishment, he continued to oppose him, but at least he had all the facts.

RIP Alexei Navalny 1976 – 2024

Jesus and Nicodemus

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