LORD GEORGE CAREY
Let me be clear. Most people who go to church in the UK are not facing any form of injustice. However, the few who are prepared to stick their neck above the parapet and speak out on issues that concern them are facing discrimination.
Our culture is changing. While it was fed through scripture and regular churchgoing, society was sympathetic towards Christians. That’s no longer the case. Now we are the oddballs. Some Christians face difficulty on issues to do with homosexuality or over cases that have gone through the European Court of Human Rights. We are talking about a few people, but they have been representing a mainstream Christian message. In some cases they have been vilified or ignored, and it is discrimination.
Shirley Chaplin was a nurse who had worn a cross for nearly 30 years. Then the NHS said, ‘We’re changing our uniform regulations. You can’t wear the cross any longer.’ Marriage registrar Lillian Ladele said she couldn’t in all conscience preside over a civil partnership. She lost her job. They both eventually lost their appeals.
These kinds of cases illustrate the major change in our society, moving from being warmly disposed to the Christian faith to a different direction altogether. From now on, no practising Christian who doesn’t like the idea of performing marriage ceremonies for civil partnerships will ever get a job. It is discrimination of Christians against the backdrop of changing society.
When people use the word ‘tolerance’ these days, they are often actually saying, ‘I couldn’t care less, because I have no strong views on it.’ But real tolerance is about having a view of your own and allowing other people to have their views as well. It isa very dangerous thing when you have a situation where only one view is acceptable.
We’ve got to speak up. I would criticise my own Church of England for not being expressive in its concern in these matters. David Bowie recently produced a music video featuring him as a kind of Christ figure with cardinals, nuns, blood and prostitutes all around him. Why didn’t he use an image from Islam? The answer is clear. If he did so then Muslims would have been up in arms and taken to the streets. But we Christians are pretty soft on the whole. We take it lying down and I don’t think we should.
Lord George Carey is former Archbishop of Canterbury and co-author of We Don’t Do God: The Marginalization of Public Faith (Monarch)
Some people claim that Christians are facing discrimination on a very narrow range of issues largely around sexuality and religious symbols in the workplace. I think we need to challenge that emphasis when so much real injustice exists around inequality, disability and social welfare that both Christians and others are suffering under. Why is so-called Christian discrimination the agenda that people have chosen to focus on?
In fact, when it comes to the very small handful of issues focused on, it becomes clear that all is not as reported. For instance, the nurse who we were told wasn’t allowed to wear a cross in hospital; the issue was the chain, not the cross. They were worried that a patient might grab the chain which would be dangerous for both the patient and the nurse. A compromise was offered of a cross being worn visibly elsewhere, but this was rejected because the agenda was to make out that this was an issue of discrimination.
A registrar who didn’t want to carry out civil partnerships was told she could move jobs within the department so that all she would have to do was record the information, but she even rejected that. There comes a point where it’s unreasonable. I don’t see any evidence of widespread compromise of Christian conscience; quite the opposite. I see Christians having accommodations offered and then rejecting them.
What often gets lost in this debate is that there are Christians on both sides of these cases. Christians work for NHS hospital trusts; the vast majority of Christian registrars are happy to conduct civil partnerships. However, some individuals and organisations are seeking to make capital out of these few cases. There is a feeling that Christians in this country are losing privileges and they want to stop that.
People should be able to look at the Church and say, ‘We know they are Christians by their love, their generosity, and their stand for justice.’ Unfortunately I see the reverse. People look at the Church and say, ‘We know they are Christians because they seek opt-outs, they defend injustice, and they are not generous.’ There are wonderful stories from our Christian heritage where at times of conflict or discrimination the cry has gone up, ‘Call for the Christians. They will be able to sort this out and bring peace.’ At the moment, people are seeing Christians as exactly the opposite and that breaks my heart.
Jonathan Bartley is director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia