A good question: Are Christians persecuted in Britain?
Each month we ask one question, and get four answers. This month: Are Christians persecuted in Britain?
‘Persecution begins with marginalisation’
In some parts of the world, as you’ll be aware, Christians face horrendous treatment at the hands of governments and authorities for their faith. We need to remember such Christians in our prayers and support ministries which help them.
I don’t want to say that what Christians are experiencing in Britain is comparable to persecution in other parts of the world, but when it comes to persecution it’s easy to think of it only in the harshest terms. We need to ask the question: “What does persecution look like?”
Extreme persecution doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It develops over time as a society’s attitudes towards Christianity change. There is a scale of persecution where at one end there are more serious forms (execution, imprisonment, torture) and at the other there are less serious forms (exclusion, marginalisation, discrimination). I think it’s hard to deny that in Britain we’re on this latter end of the scale. …
Andrea Williams is CEO of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre
‘Victimhood becomes a badge of honour’
Inflation is a serious problem in Britain; not so much in our economy as our culture. The problem of educational (“grade”) inflation is well-recognised (go take an 11+ from 50 years ago if you doubt this). Welfare inflation is a serious issue (the public consistently overestimates the number of claimants, how much they get, and what proportion of the national budget they claim.) And now, we seem to be embarking on a wholly new form – an inflation of maltreatment.
Christians no longer occupy the mainstream of British culture, which has been moving towards liberal autonomy since the 1960s. By the late 90s, the language and logic of human rights had become entrenched as our default moral discourse, and while this could be squared with Christian thought (scholars have pointed out that authoritative human rights need the idea of the Christian God to be intellectually coherent) it was an uncomfortable squaring. Those Christians who were not prepared to grant moral authority to “personal choice” could be placed in an awkward position.
So far, so true: being a Christian in 21st-Century Britain can be awkward, and, when combined with New Atheists whose anger was matched only by their self-righteousness, this could spill over into rhetorical spite, low-level bullying and the occasional suspension or dismissal. …
Nick Spencer is research director at the Theos thinktank
‘Nigeria has seen horrendous violence against Christians’
At the risk of sounding like a politician, my first reaction to this question is: It depends how you define persecution. Clearly we don’t see the oppression, the violence, the imprisonments and the killing of Christians – for being Christians – that occurs in many countries. More specifically, we do not at present see organised, sustained opposition to the Christian faith – either from the state, of from groups of religious extremists. Undoubtedly we still enjoy considerable freedom.
One can compare this with countries like Nigeria, which has seen an horrendous amount of violence perpetrated against Christians in recent years; or Iran and China, where the “underground church” faces regular suppression; or Pakistan, where the Christian minority is vulnerable to attack and abuse.
On the other hand, we have, in recent years, seen cases where Christians in the UK have been discriminated against, and where attempts have been made to prevent them publicly proclaiming the Gospel or witnessing for their faith. Often this opposition has come from an increasingly intolerant political correctness that seems biased against Christianity. …
Kenneth Harrod works for Release International, an organisation serving the persecuted church around the world. Because of the nature of his work, he is not pictured
‘The word “persecution” is hard to use without double standards’
When is persecution not persecution? Catholic church history books tend to talk about the persecution of Catholic missionaries executed in Japan, but of “countering heresy” when it comes to their own execution of Cathars or Protestants. Protestant histories describe persecution at the hands of Bloody Mary, but talk of their own “efforts to stop the spread of Anabaptist teaching” by execution.
Those who lower the bar on definitions of persecution to include exclusion are usually guilty of the same thing. If Lord Carey argues that someone excluded from a job or a group for being a Christian is persecuted, I also want to hear him say that it was his policy as Archbishop to persecute gay Christians. You would have thought that the word either means “exclude” or doesn’t. In fact, the rule seems to be that it is persecution when they do it to our side, but not when we do it to them.
The word “persecution” is very hard to use without double standards, which is one good reason to avoid it. Another is illustrated by a new book by the church historian Candida Moss: The Myth of Persecution: How early Christians invented a story of martyrdom. It attacks the tradition that, in the Roman Empire: “Vast numbers of believers were thrown to the lions, tortured, or burned alive because they refused to renounce Christ.” These stories are exaggerations and forgeries, she says. …
Stephen Tomkins is editor of Reform
This is an extract from the November 2013 edition of Reform.