I thought I’d said everything I wanted to back in April about conflicts between Bible-believing Christians and various power structures in the UK, but I was wrong: since then we have had the launch of the Not Ashamed campaign and various responses to it, including a dismissive one from sometime visitor to this blog, Paul Wright, and so I once again find myself with the nagging feeling that something is being missed.
When I first blogged about Not Ashamed I remarked that, while I agreed with the substance of the declaration itself, the choice of examples for the campaign I found ‘odd’. In the end I never signed the declaration for this reason, since I wasn’t certain I could support everything that these Christians had been trying to do in their jobs. Paul, predictably, goes further, endorsing the view that the individuals in question ‘probably should be ashamed’.
At the same time, I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I think that all the noise about Christians having been unfairly treated in this country is as unfounded as all that. To that end, here is a list of the cases to which I have drawn attention in the last couple of years:
Caroline Petrie, the nurse who was suspended after offering to pray for a patient (later reinstated)
Jennie Cain, the school receptionist whose daughter was sent home for evangelising at school, and whose private e-mail asking for prayer about this somehow ended up in the hands of her boss
The foster mother who was struck off the register after a 16-year-old in her care converted to Christianity
And a new one:
Christian health worker Margaret Forrester faces sack over anti-abortion booklet (The Telegraph) – NB the booklet in question was shown to colleagues, not patients. These developments should be opposed because they are unjust, and the impression that they are part of a general trend of intolerance towards beliefs that deviate from a rather narrow secular liberalism should not be dismissed out of hand.
Still, I have mixed feelings about the whole Not Ashamed approach to these issues. While there is a lot of truth in the contention that, in terms of the foundations for its institutions and laws, this is a ‘Christian country’, it isn’t clear to me what arguing on this basis is supposed to achieve. As any Christian who has spent a modicum of time outside the holy huddle trying to reach those around them with the gospel knows, in terms of personal loyalties this country is predominantly not Christian at all but pagan – no amount of census box-ticking obscures the fact – and we should therefore not be surprised that people seek to order society in dehumanising ways and call it good. Sin does that to people, and sin will not be defeated with court cases.
Last year I blogged some points from a seminar that Michael Jensen had given on the subject of martyrdom, which included the following:
Martyrdom is a sign of a distinctively Christian mode of speech: we love people to death. The way we speak means we run risks, ranging all the way from ridicule to death. But we don't (or shouldn't) bang on about our rights; rather, we should be concerned about what is right. […]
Jensen was keen that the church shouldn't be making itself into just another special interest pressure group, trying to carve out its own space within which to operate.
The more we talk about how discriminated against we are, about how hard it is for Christians in Britain, probably the less inclined people will be to believe us when we tell them that we care about them. Only with a massive changing of hearts brought about by the Spirit will Britain again be a Christian nation in the sense that matters. It has happened before in many a pagan country, but as a result of Christians witnessing to their fellow citizens, never from coercion. The reason that my feelings about Not Ashamed are mixed is because this fact seems also to have been acknowledged there at some level, for example in Michael Nazir-Ali’s contribution to the website. After having spent some time discussing court cases and parliamentary debates, he says:
But it is at the local level that the rubber will really hit the road, when people manifest their beliefs, express their faith in their home, in the neighbourhood, in the shops when they go to them, at their place of work, at recreation, wherever they may be. That is very important because Christians need to be visible in the localities where they live.
This sense of being not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16) is definitely one which I support.