Rowan Williams

Christians who complain they are persecuted in Britain need to ‘grow up’, according to statements made by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at the Edinburgh Book Festival last month. Lord Williams said that hearing Western Christians talking about being persecuted made him ‘very uneasy’ and said that being made fun of and made to feel uneasy were not the same as persecution. The former archbishop spoke of the ‘systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day’ experienced by Christians facing genuine persecution around the world and said: ‘That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society.’

Ben Rogers, acting advocacy director at anti-persecution charity, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), told Christianity: ‘I would very strongly agree with Dr Williams and I was very pleased that he spoke as directly and some would say bluntly as he did.’ Rogers said that from his experience of working with persecuted Christians and other minorities around the world, who regularly face torture, rape, slavery and death, he could not see how anyone could come to the conclusion that UK Christians were facing the same thing. ‘I think they would view the comments that come from some Western Christians about the challenges in our own societies with considerably raised eyebrows,’ he said.

However, Peter Norris of Christian campaign group Christian Concern said that persecution always begins with low-level discrimination, and he believes that is what British Christians face. ‘I don’t think anyone is seriously trying to compare what Christians are experiencing here to what Christians are experiencing in Egypt or Nigeria,’ he said. ‘But the point is more the trajectory. People are losing their jobs because of acting on their Christian faith.’ Norris said there was an effort to push Christianity out of the public square.

David McIlroy, author of A Biblical View of Law and Justice (Paternoster) and an associate tutor at Spurgeon’s College, told Christianity that using the term persecution was unhelpful, but that there were causes for concern in the UK, where faith is increasingly being pushed out of public life: ‘There is a sort of political correctness that says religion mustn’t be seen or heard that is being driven by individual decisions that are not necessarily malicious.’ McIlroy said that in cases like those of Catholic adoption agencies not wanting to help gay couples adopt, the primary issue is a clash between the ‘consumer rights’ of couples wanting to adopt and the ‘producer rights’ of agencies wanting to operate according to religious beliefs. ‘There’s not a shortage of babies to be adopted if you’re gay, but when those two rights collide, the consumer right wins,’ he said.

Christians experience persecution in the majority of countries around the world, according to CSW.