When we talk about the big issues do we need to make them ‘sexy’ to get people to listen?
This week, London plays host to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The official government website describes it as ‘the largest gathering ever brought together on the subject with over 100 NGOs and international partners taking part alongside 48 foreign ministers and over 600 government delegates from 113 countries.’ In what might be described as the weirdest double-act ever witnessed, William Hague is joined by Angelina Jolie in chairing this campaign and presenting it to the public.
However, if you go all 1 Samuel 16:7 on this (‘People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’), it’s actually not that odd a pairing: Hague being the foreign secretary and Jolie being the special envoy for the UN high commissioner for refugees. Nevertheless, when it comes to Angelina’s role in all this, I could not help be struck by the sentiment the Evening Standard chose as their leading summary:
‘When Angelina Jolie speaks, heads of state listen. A superb negotiator in designer clothing, she knows her power and is determined to use it to change global attitudes to war crimes.’
Now I am in no way criticising the way in which she is using her ‘power’, or indeed the type of power she wields. However, the uncomfortable subtext that we need to make justice – an ideal that should be desirable enough in itself – more attractive, has been playing heavily on my mind. The article shortly went on to say that ‘humanity can bear only so much policy – it deserves some beauty and charisma to sugar the pill.’ It’s a sad fact that when we talk about ending sexual violence, we still have to make it in some way ‘sexy’ for non-governmental people to take note.
Playing into our desire for beauty and charisma is clearly not the only way to get people’s attention in the name of godly values. Isaiah 53 is a passage in the Hebrew Bible which Christians believe foreshadows Christ – and I gotta say, I think it’s a pretty compelling fit. In this passage, we are told that Jesus, Saviour of the Whole Bloomin’ World, ‘had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him’ (v2), i.e. he was nothing special to look at. He didn’t tap into that part of our desire. Instead, he taps into the much deeper desire for justice, mercy, forgiveness… those things that, unlike earthly beauty, do not change or fade away. So really, Jesus is nothing like Angelina Jolie. He wasn’t beautiful (though we could probably reckon him charismatic); He hadn’t starred in a host of Hollywood blockbusters; and he wouldn’t have been spotted wandering around Jerusalem in a backless evening gown. As for His cheekbones – your guess is as good as mine, but if they were as great as Angelina’s, I’m guessing someone would have written it down.
However, ‘sugar (read: designer clothing) coating’ aside, Angelina is exhibiting some Christlike qualities. She is using her power and fame for good; she has listened to and wept with those survivors of these horrific war crimes with compassion and deep empathy; and most importantly, she’s tried to bridge the gap and do what these victims cannot do for themselves: restore their dignity, and strive for justice. It dawned on me that God used Esther for her looks to save her people – in that story, it’s perfume regime first, justice later! If it has always been the case, who am I to wish she didn’t have to be pretty to give clout to her conviction? Maybe if people see a beautiful person getting involved in something this devastating and in need of change, they’ll in turn see beauty in the struggle. But in the meantime, I thank God that he doesn’t require anything Hollywood-ready from us: no big movie deal, no sartorial panache and no chiselled jawline. All he requires is obedience, and a correctly-aligned attraction to the fierce beauty and necessity of justice and compassion. But for those of you reading with star-looks or stage-ready charisma: remember, Angelina Jolie can be more like Jesus than you perhaps first thought. How will you use what God gave you to glorify his justice?
As Angelina and co so rightly tell us, it’s #TimeToAct.