“Mind Mr By-Ends”
By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
Driving into an English city on holiday I idly counted the rainbow flags posted in shop and house windows. One after another they signalled support for this world’s ideology. I went into three shops to make purchases -– in two of them staff wore rainbow lanyards. Many major corporations and banks publicly signal support for the LBGTI agenda -– and do so visibly and financially. Increasingly Christian speakers and schools, hospitals and employees are giving into pressure to ‘wave the flag’ -– signal support for the world’s religion. All that is demanded is the modern equivalent of what Nebuchadnezzar insisted upon -– fly the flag, wear the lanyard -– bow the knee to the golden statue. A symbolic gesture that indicates support for an ethic founded upon Jesus-denying religion.
As leading evangelical speakers on sexuality equivocate on whether Pride events are off limits for believers; as Christian schools fly the rainbow flag and encourage people to use pronouns as requested -– some believers wonder how people who seem to be Christians and are involved in ministry can compromise and be so convinced it is right to do so. Part of the answer is given in Pilgrim’s Progress, where we meet a character called ‘By-Ends.’
By-Ends comes from the town ‘Fair-Speech’ -– a town he boasts of as being wealthy. He is happy to have Christian as his companion but also speaks of his many rich friends and relatives, who are most impressive folk. By-Ends speaks of ‘Lord Turn-about, my Lord Time-server, my Lord Fair-speech (from whose ancestors that town first took its name), also Mr. Smooth-man, Mr. Facing-both-ways, Mr. Any-thing; and the parson of our parish, Mr. Two-tongues, was my mother’s own brother, by father’s side; and to tell you the truth, I am become a gentleman of good quality, yet my great-grandfather was but a waterman, looking one way and rowing another, and I got most of my estate by the same occupation.’
His background of looking a different way to how he is travelling is the key to By-Ends’ character. He is walking towards the celestial city with Christian -– but he is looking with appreciation towards the world he values. By Ends is developed as a character by Bunyan in more depth than many others. He has many companions and they talk much of religion -– convincing themselves by abstruse arguments that their compromises with the world are actually more sound than Christian’s ‘rigid notions’ and ‘headstrong manner.’
Money and comfort are important for By Ends. He says he is ‘for religion so far as the times and my safety will bear it -– I am for religion in golden slippers, in the sunshine and with applause.’ With lots and lots of impressive friends to reassure him his comfortable take on Christianity is right, he feels confident in his theological discourses. But is it right for pilgrims to honour the opinion of ‘Mr. Hold-the-world and Mr. Money-love? Of course not -– but many always have. Today if a person wants to be accepted, popular and comfortable in our culture they must listen to men like ‘By-Ends’. Preach and speak of Christ but look in the opposite direction — with the requisite rainbow flag posted.
The Revd Dr Peter Sanlon is Rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells. www.emmanuelanglican.uk