Every so often something happens to create a flurry of news about Christians being under siege in the UK. There’s been another couple of examples this week, and so various commentators and websites have a go around things like:
- · This never happens to Muslims/hindus (insert other faith of choice here) because that wouldn’t be politically correct (the Left Wing/Labour conspiracy argument)
- · Christians are being persecuted and they shouldn’t be because this is a Christian country
- · All religions are fairy tales so no religion should be allowed to say or do anything in public
And so on.
I’m a Christian, so I’m coming at this from a particular point of view. I’m also a minister so I have a public role, and am involved in some community things because of it. I do feel slightly irritated about things like the anti-gay B&B owners row, because it is true that many Jews and Muslims have issues with homosexuality in the same way many Christians do, and for the same reasons, but they don’t seem to find themselves in the media spotlight in quite the same way.
However, I don’t think that Christians are being persecuted in this country. I can say and do mostly what I like, as long as I don’t break the law, and I don’t feel that I am in danger of my life because of my beliefs. There are Christians in the world who cannot meet together to worship without fear, or who are imprisoned or executed because of their faith. That’s persecution.
I also don’t feel we are particular victims of any kind of campaign. I think we sometimes fall foul of the complex web of tolerances and freedoms that are at work in British society at the moment. This web means that there is freedom of speech, but not if what you say incites racial hatred. There is freedom of sexual expression, but not if you want to have sex with children. There is freedom of religion, but not if you are teaching killing people as part of your religion.
In my view, as a Christian, I have to earn the right to a public say on things by what I am involved in. So in my role as a Youth Pastor I am talking to the local council as they build a new Young People’s centre. I get to be involved because I am encouraging my youth group to get involved in their community through this. I don’t get asked because I’m a church leader, though, and it wouldn’t be right if I did. And I definitely don’t expect to be invited to say a prayer at any point – why in earth would I? However, I do expect to be able to talk about faith matters with young people if that’s what they want because that’s enshrined in the government’s own agenda for young people*.
I also wouldn’t want there to be religious exception clauses for matters of conscience. That’s a slippery slope I don’t want to see. If we had that, then some sections of the community could argue that it’s alright to mutilate a woman’s genitals when it is done for religious reasons, or that it’s a religious practice to beat up a child because they are a witch. If I had a job which challenged my conscience then I have to make a choice between staying or leaving, and would have to choose leaving.
As Christians we need to remember our founder’s words about losing our lives, taking up our crosses and be prepared to not grasp at equality but to be servants to the world. Salt is strong, with a powerful flavour, yeast has an amazing effect on dough, but both disappear into the foods they are flavouring, preserving and leavening.
And we definitely should not respond like the good folks of Cranston, Rhode Island who made death threats against 16 year old Jessica Ahlqvuist and referred to her as an “evil little thing” because she claimed that the display of a prayer on school premises violated the 1st Amendment of the US constitution and went to court to make her case (and won).
*Every Child Matters