When I read the cover of today’s Daily Mail I groaned. Lord Carey does not speak for me, or for many of the Christians I know, and we wince at the statements he’s made.
Carey personally attacked Cameron saying:
‘It was a bit rich to hear that the Prime Minister has told religious leaders that they should “stand up and oppose aggressive secularisation” when it seems that his government is aiding and abetting this aggression every step of the way. At his pre-Easter Downing Street reception for faith leaders, he said that he supported Christians’ right to practise their faith. Yet many Christians doubt his sincerity.’
In the Mail article Carey also drew on a new poll that showed over 2/3 of Christians in the UK feel like a “persecuted minority”.
My thoughts on this are:
1. Christians like myself are keen to say we do not echo Carey’s views. It is frustrating and embarrassing to be represented like this and he does not speak for the whole Church. This is not the first time Carey has spoken out like this and I’m sure it won’t be the last. It would be preferable not to give him so much media attention as it’s not really ‘new news’ that he holds these opinions.
2. “Discrimination” and “persecution” are two very different terms yet they are seemingly used interchangeably in these debates. I’ve noticed that the term discrimination seems to be used less and persecution used more in the past months. Persecution is an entirely inappropriate term to use in the context of the UK; only yesterday thousands of Churches took to the streets freely with Good Friday processions and outdoor services. We have incredible freedom here and that should be celebrated. The timing of this is bizarre too; after all, we are currently celebrating a long weekend off work based on the Christian festival of Easter - hardly proof that Christian traditions and festivals are being sidelined.
3. Globally, Christians DO face terrible persecution. A brief look at an organisation like “Open Doors” will show that. Over 100 Christians are executed every month for their faith and many others face torture or labour camps. There is a well-researched Top 50 List of nations where Christians face the gravest danger. Funnily enough, the UK doesn’t feature in that Top 50. I wonder why… (!) If Christians in the UK genuinely feel persecuted, perhaps they should spend a week in North Korea or Saudi Arabia, which score 1st and 2nd on the list respectively. Perhaps after experiencing those nations, they would come back (if they make it back alive) and fill in their ComRes survey a little differently.
4. There are so many MORE important things the Church needs to be focused on. Souped-up claims of persecution are a total waste of precious energy, media and money. Carey fails to point out that the real way the government have failed to represent the Christian Gospel is in targeting the poor and vulnerable. Surely that is a much more important point to raise; the bedroom tax would be a good place to start. It’s concerning that these issues are not more centrally in focus.
5. The poll Carey is quoting was commissioned by The Coalition For Marriage. ComRes carried it out and they are an excellent and totally trustworthy source. However, I would like to see the exact wording of the questions, as clearly C4M are operating from a place where they’d very much want the survey to show that people DO feel persecuted. It’s important that we see the full text of the survey, as question can be phrased in a manner that achieves a desired outcome. I’d also like to see all the results from the survey, not just those in the Mail.
6. I’d like to see a greater number of people surveyed (this poll only questioned 535 people). They were said to be “regular Church-goers” which again may not represent the views of all “Christians” as those who feel less able to sign up to Carey’s type of views may feel themselves attending Church less as decisions about gay marriage and women bishops make them feel an unwelcome minority. So a poll should reach wider than “regular Church-goers” to get a fair sweep of “Christians”.
7. Cameron recently addressed faith leaders at a pre-Easter Downing Street reception. A number of my friends were there. David was very positive toward people of faith. If you’re interested in reading the full transcript of what he said there, you can do so here: http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/transcript-of-prime-ministers-speech-at-downing-street-easter-reception/ He was warm and respectful, thanking faith group for all they contribute to our society.
8. We are no longer a Christian nation. Clinging on to a bygone era is pointless if it’s simply not true. We are a multi-cultural, multi-faith nation and that is the UK we find ourselves a part of today. It is a rich and wonderful place to live. Perhaps Christians feel begrudged that we have lost so much ground and power since the era of Christendom? Maybe the solution would be to remove the sense of privilege from Christian faith and create a more equal faith society – maybe then Christians would feel less persecuted as the focus would be on equality rather than assuming a privileged role in a nation that largely has left its Christian roots behind. I am a committed follower of Jesus, but I don’t expect UK citizens who do not subscribe to my religious views to have them imposed upon them. Currently with Bishop sitting in te House of Lords and the Queen as head of the Church, there are many reasons for non-Christians to feel a faith that they do not adhere to still wields a lot of power over their every day lives.
In summary: Ironically the Christians who are actually being discriminated against may be those who wince at the unrepresentative claims made by leaders like Lord Carey. After all, he gets the headlines and the loudest voice, yet doesn’t actually speak for many of us. But I for one would never dream of labelling that as “discrimination” or “persecution”.
Rather, my heart and prayers are with those in the Top 50 nations, facing torture, labour camps and execution. They could only dream of the freedoms we have here in the UK and we need to get a grip, grow up, and realise how good we’ve got it. Let’s instead give media attention and Church energy to feeding and protecting the poor and vulnerable in our nation – that would be a far better use of our time.