As we go to press the debate over the wearing of a crucifix or a veil rages on. In October British Airways banned Nadia Eweida from wearing a small cross, asking her to tuck it under her company cravat. Nadia a regular worshipper at an Anglican church in south-west London argued that Muslim, Hindu and Sikh staff visibly wore hijabs, turbans and bangles – so why shouldn’t she wear her crucifix? Ann Widdicombe MP backed Miss Eweida and called for Christians to boycott BA to influence their deliberations and change their ‘anti-Christian’ policies.
Meanwhile Aishah Azmi, the Muslim teaching assistant suspended by a junior school in Dewsbury for refusing to remove her veil in the classroom, plans to take her case to the court of appeal after an employment tribunal decided she was not discriminated against on religious grounds. The niqab hides the face and neck apart from a narrow slit at the eyes. Mainstream Islam does not require women to wear the niqab – it calls for modesty.
The early followers of Christ did not wear a crucifix or any other outward sign of their allegiance. Instead Jesus, in the hours before his betrayal and death, told his closest friends that people would know they were his followers because of the way they loved each other (John 13:35).
So while Miss Eweida’s case does illustrate a disparity between the way she has been treated compared with followers of other faiths – an anti-Christian trend that many consider is becoming all too common - I can’t help thinking that Jesus would place more importance on demonstrating in words and deeds of loving kindness our allegiance to Him over the wearing of symbols. This means in the world of work – the presence of the Holy Spirit in us should be evident by our good customer care, our diligence, our keeping of promises, our kindness and our honesty. I am wary of some Christian small businesses, which splatter the fish logo on their adverts and handbills. Attention to detail, keeping to deadlines and high standards of workmanship should all be shouting aloud about the inner convictions of the Christians who own the business with much more power than an enamel badge or a company logo.
Some readers might heartily support the views of Anne Widdecombe and others, who consider that Christians should be fighting to protect our ‘Christian rights’. Joel Edwards, in his column this month (page 18), helpfully calls for an assertive but loving response in the current climate of raised voices and heated debate. Getting that balance right - being salt and light - is our daily challenge.
For some, part of that expression includes wearing a cross around their neck. Wearing your heart on your sleeve is another, and dare I say it, more potent witness.
Finally this month, I want to express my thanks and deep appreciation to Andy Peck for whom this is his last issue as deputy editor. For seven years Christianity magazine has benefited from Andy’s hard work, integrity, determination, theological rigour, insight and passion for the gospel. I will miss his daily support, wry sense of humour and encyclopaedic Bible knowledge. Happily Andy will continue to contribute to the magazine – look out for an article by him coming soon on Rick Warren and the phenomena of his Purpose Driven Life book, which is impacting churches around the world.
John Buckeridge is the senior editor of Christianity magazine.