The headline story in the Daily Telegraph today is about a submission by George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, to a court case before the European Court of Human Rights.
Britain’s Christians are being vilified, warns Lord Carey
Christians are being “persecuted” by courts and “driven underground” in the same way that homosexuals once were, a former Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.
Lord Carey says worshippers are being “vilified” by the state, treated as “bigots” and sacked simply for expressing their beliefs.
The attack is part of a direct appeal to the European Court of Human Rights before a landmark case on religious freedom.
In a written submission seen by The Daily Telegraph, the former leader of more than 70 million Anglicans warns that the outward expression of traditional conservative Christian values has effectively been “banned” in Britain under a new “secular conformity of belief and conduct”.
His comments represent one of the strongest attacks on the impartiality of Britain’s judiciary from a religious leader.
He says Christians will face a “religious bar” to employment if rulings against wearing crosses and expressing their beliefs are not reversed.
Lord Carey argues that in “case after case” British courts have failed to protect Christian values. He urges European judges to correct the balance.
The hearing, due to start in Strasbourg on Sept 4, will deal with the case of two workers forced out of their jobs over the wearing of crosses as a visible manifestation of their faith. It will also take in the cases of Gary McFarlane, a counsellor sacked for saying that he may not be comfortable in giving sex therapy to homosexual couples, and a Christian registrar, who wishes not to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.
Lord Carey, who was archbishop from 1991 to 2002, warns of a “drive to remove Judaeo-Christian values from the public square”. Courts in Britain have “consistently applied equality law to discriminate against Christians”.
They show a “crude” misunderstanding of the faith by treating some believers as “bigots”. He writes: “In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by State bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong.
“It affects the moral and ethical compass of the United Kingdom. Christians are excluded from many sectors of employment simply because of their beliefs; beliefs which are not contrary to the public good.”
He outlines a string of cases in which he argues that British judges have used a strict reading of equality law to strip the legally established right to freedom of religion of “any substantive effect”.
“It is now Christians who are persecuted; often sought out and framed by homosexual activists,” he says. “Christians are driven underground. There appears to be a clear animus to the Christian faith and to Judaeo-Christian values. Clearly the courts of the United Kingdom require guidance.”
He says the human rights campaign has gone too far and become a political agenda.
The article is not a particularly sympathetic one, and gives us little idea of the context from which Dr Carey’s words have been excerpted. I think it is reasonable to ask who sent the submission to the Telegraph, and with what motives.
The article in the Belfast Telegraph is headed, ‘Vilified’ Christians ‘fear arrest’, but is based on the Telegraph article.
What are we to make of this?
The background is that there has been a concerted effort in Britain in recent years to create case law which has the effect that a Christian must conform to newly created laws which seem designed to attack Christian beliefs.
In particular an individual named Ben Summerskill — son of a prominent Labour politican — and his gay campaigning group Stonewall seem to be behind much of the mischief. It is said that he presented a list of demands for laws, in favour of gays and criminalising opposition to them, to Tony Blair, a decade ago, who agreed to enact them all. It is certainly the case that he sent agents provocateurs to the home of an elderly Christian couple who offered “bed and breakfast” to visitors to demand that these two gays should be given a double room to practice their vice in, with the expectation of being refused and reporting the couple to the police under the laws which he himself had drawn up. The object of this hateful exercise was to drag his victims through the courts, and in the process create case law which would prevent Christians running hotels unless he permitted it. A list of his misdeeds would doubtless make interesting reading, but there seems no special need to dwell on them here.
Times of bigotry and intolerance inevitably produce men like Summerskill, men adept at manipulating people in power in order to achieve their own evil ends, and subsequent ages look with revulsion on such people, and wonder why men allowed them to flourish.
But God allows such things, in order that the difference between good and evil shall become clear. It is easy enough to see the difference between those who claim the name of Christian, but whose “god” is merely a servant to Summerskill and his ilk; and those who follow God himself, at whatever cost. The suffering of the confessors — we have yet to have martyrs — is the seed of the church.
But … “vilified”? Is that right? Are Christians, is Christianity vilified in Britain?
Years ago, I went to see progressive rock group Yes at the old Wembley Arena. This was their “90125” tour, which featured a song about vice in the city called “City of Love”. As singer Jon Anderson introduced the song, he referred to a “city of love … a city of sin …”. When he said the word “sin”, the whole arena, probably 100,000 people, shivered, including me. Everyone was nervous that a sermon was about to follow. Yet Anderson is not a Christian, and the line was just a throwaway. That involuntary reaction shows us that there has been some powerful negative conditioning in our land towards religious themes.
Surely we all know that it is embarassing to evangelise, to share the gospel? That it is embarassing to be known as a Christian at work? That to do so is to invite an unfriendly scrutiny, and a jeer when, in vexation, we allow some expletive to pass our lips? We’re accustomed to this, we’ve never known anything different.
But … why is it embarassing? Is it not that we are all — Christian and non-Christian — in possession of attitudes that make it nearly impossible for us to feel otherwise?
And what shapes our attitudes? What was it that created the attitudes that made 100,000 people shiver at Wembley, that evening? It was, of course, the “climate of the times”, as we might call it. The “media agenda of this country” might be another term.
If we look at how Christianity and Christians are portrayed in our mass media, in every way that anyone ever learns about anything, do we not see hostility? Do we not see contempt? Do we ever find that the Christian character in a drama is ever portrayed as anything but a weirdo, a creep, a bigot, a hypocrite and, in our police dramas, not infrequently as a murderer?
We’re used to it. Like a fish, we hardly see it. It’s normal.
But … it is NOT normal. We see how individuals like Summerskill manipulate the political climate to normalise a hideous vice. Why do we doubt that other individuals, no less cynical, manipulate the same environment to make a world in which fornication is normal, abortion routine, and any interference with the same is shouted down or grounds for sacking? The selfish generation had only one creed: “if it feels good, do it”. We know that this was all about sex; and we have discovered that the same creed has rotted the quality of care in our hospitals, and the integrity of our major companies. Why do we suppose that this same rotten attitude does not determine what is “normal” in our society, when it controls all the levers for shaping public opinion?
Dr Carey is right. In modern Britain Christians are indeed vilified.
This is not, necessarily, a new thing. It has always been rather risky to be a Christian. I read this morning, in the Collected Essays and Addresses of the excellent Augustine Birrell, how the commands of religion no longer commanded the assent of most people. That essay was dated 1904.
But the efforts of Summerskill, and those like him or sympathetic to him, are creating a new thing. They are creating a climate of systematic, structural, legal discrimination against Christians. “Your faith or your job” is the cry. Christians may not run adoption agencies, thanks to Summerskill; he is determined that they may not run hotels, may not decide who does or does not stay in their own homes if they offer B&B; may not wear crosses in workplaces where turbans may be worn; and so on, seemingly endlessly. It matters nothing whether Jews — or Christians, or any other respectable group — are prevented from working by a law that says it explicitly, or by a law which has the same effect by deliberately requiring them to violate their beliefs.
The case before the Euro-court is well-judged. It is a political body; but it is unlikely to rule against the interests of French and Italian Catholics.
In the meantime let us pray for England, where such evil is intended and being put into effect. We have not had to deal with a season of deliberate, malevolent harassment for nearly two centuries.
We might also pray for Ben Summerskill. For, as Tertullian remarks in Ad Scapulam, those who seek to do evil to God’s people tend to live short and unhappy lives; and it is our duty, not to threaten, but to pray.
- UPDATE: But my memory deceived me when I wrote this. I was thinking of an essay in volume 2 of that work, entitled Marie Bashkirtseff, wherein he writes on p.263, “The eclipse of faith has not proved fatal by any means to the instinct of confession.” By the mysterious alchemy of memory this became the statement above.↩