Skip to comments.England: Time to fight the good fight back
Posted on 09/11/2006 6:37:50 PM PDT by sionnsar
It could have been construed as a rallying call: a warning to committed Christians that they sh ould heighten their awareness, open their eyes and stiffen their spines. And it was perfectly appropriate that it should have been delivered from the pulpit.
Last Sunday morning, in a west London church, a Roman Catholic priest gave a thought-provoking sermon. It was a gentle reminder to his congregation that they should - figuratively speaking - fight for their Christian faith.
It could hardly have been more timely. Last week, Stephen Green, the national director of the evangelical group Christian Voice, who is a prominent, if extreme, campaigner, found himself at Cardiff magistrates' court pleading not guilty to "using threatening words or behaviour likely to cause harassment or distress".
His "crime" had been to hand out leaflets at a gay rally. They were entitled: "Same sex love - Same sex sex: What does the Bible say?" When police ejected him, Green left peacefully. But he continued to distribute his pamphlets outside the festival, hence his arrest.
In court, as he vowed to tell the "truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth", the irony of swearing his oath on the Bible must have struck him, since the literature he had been distributing contained quotations from the 1611 King James Bible. In particular, one from the Old Testament, saying: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is an abomination."
While his trenchant, "Bible Belt" views are likely to be distasteful to many within the Christian churches, his right to freely - and peacefully - endorse what is a fundamental tenet of Christianity, is upheld by its majority. After all, the Bible is the moral code that underpins our society. As the Rev Rod Thomas, of the influential Reform organisation, which represents 500 Church of England clergy, pointed out: "If there was nothing involved here other than the content of the leaflets, the arrest represents an onslaught on the freedom of speech and on the freedom of religious expression."
The incident highlights Christianity's modern-day dilemma. Increasingly, its congregations feel they are being sandwiched between twin threats: from secularism and from Islamic extremists. While, on the one hand, police often refuse to act against Islamic extremists, who abuse Britain's freedom by preaching hatred and incitement against the West, such is our current culture of political correctness and our over-zealous espousal of human rights, that Christianity itself feels under attack. Now it is fighting back.
Simon Calvert, from the Christian Institute, a charity that promotes the Christian faith, is compiling an online dossier of incidents of discrimination and attacks on Christians. "There is definitely a growing hostility towards Christians and, such is our politically correct secular agenda, that those of the Christian faith are being targeted," he said.
What worried him particularly was the police's role. "They increasingly think it is their business to tell Christians what they can and cannot say," he said. It is an issue that is also causing growing concern within the ranks of the Evangelical Alliance, which represents 1.2 million British Christians. "A lot of people get the distinct impression that there are certain minorities that are protected more by our laws than others," said Dr Don Horrocks, its head of communications.
He cites a recent newspaper advertisement, placed by the Gay Police Association, which depicted a Bible alongside a splash of blood. The caption read: "74 per cent increase in homophobic incidents."
"The clear implication is that Christians were responsible: not, for example, Muslims," he said. "Why a Bible, not a Koran?" As Colin Hart, of the Christian Institute, pointed out: "It is noticeable that police never arrest Muslims who make remarks about homosexuality."
Their anxiety is illustrated by four recent cases. Six months ago, two pensioners, Joe and Helen Roberts, from Fleetwood, Lancash ire, were quizzed by police for more than an hour after they asked if they could put Christian pamphlets next to gay rights literature on display at their town hall. Police told them that their request was close to a "hate" crime and said they wanted to "educate" them out of their belief that homosexuality was wrong.
Similarly, the author Lynette Burrows received a warning from the Metropolitan police for suggesting, on radio, that gay people did not make ideal adoptive parents.
Yet, when Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, said, during a Radio 4 broadcast in January, that homosexuality was harmful, police dragged their feet and, when they eventually did react, swiftly dropped the matter after a cursory investigation.
And then there was the case of the young Muslim who dressed as a suicide bomber and paraded in London in February, six months after the 7/7 bombings in which 52 were blown up by real suicide bombers. Police did not arrest him on the day, but, instead, arrested two counter-demonstrators.
The cause for such a difference in treatments, many believe, lies with Christianity itself, with its own over-eagerness to encompass multi-faith movements. Damian Thompson, the editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, said: "The fact that Christians are persecuted and harassed, while Muslim extremists are left alone to spread their propaganda, can be partly attributed to the incredible wimpishness of Anglican and Catholic bishops in Britain, who have spent decades wringing their hands and apologising for the sins of Christianity - and, now that it is under threat, they simply do not know how to speak up for it forcefully," he said.
"Much of the damaging appeasement of extreme Muslims can be traced back to the multi-faith movement embraced so vigorously by the liberal clergy in the Seventies and Eighties. Offending Muslim sensibilities frightens Church leaders far more than acts of terrorism."
Last week saw an astonishing example of the church's liberalism, when a Church of England priest who has converted to Hinduism, was allowed to continue to officiate as a cleric. The Rev David Hart's diocese renewed his licence this summer, even though he had moved to India, changed his name to Ananda and daily blessed a congregation of Hindus with fire previously offered up to Nagar, the snake god.
In spite of this, Mr Hart, a former director of Christian Aid and currently the international secretary for the World Congress of Faiths, believes he is still fit to celebrate as an Anglican priest - and plans to do so when he returns to Britain. At the moment, he serves at a Hindu temple in Kerala.
Yet, Mr Hart omitted to tell the Bishop of Ely, Andrew Russell, the head of the dioceses in which he served in this country, that he had converted. He would be amazed, he said, if it was treated with suspicion. "I have neither explicitly nor implicitly renounced my Christian faith or priesthood," he said, adding that his switch of faiths would be "read in the spirit of open exploration and dialogue, which is an essential feature of our shared modern spirituality".
Damian Thompson's criticism of the church for embracing multiculturalism too readily is acknowledged by Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester. "Now that we are saying goodbye to it in the forms it has been exercised, it is the right time to put a Christian vision of society once again at the centre of our national life," he said.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, believes that "any society must be based on its values. And for the UK they are Judaeo-Christian. The pluralism of the Seventies and Eighties marginalised Christianity. Then secularism came along and effectively neutralised it. So, now we have a moral/spiritual vacuum and anything that is seen to be Christian can be attacked."
Dr Sookhdeo is a convert from Islam to Christianity - for which the penalty is death. "It is true that Islam is the only religion that does not allow its followers to leave. It is a one-way street," he said. He is unwilling to discuss reactions to his own conversion but, as Baroness Cox, the deputy speaker of the House of Lords and a committed Christian, points out: "We hear little of the attacks on Christians who converted from Islam."
It was, according to Simon Calvert, abundantly clear that the same sensitivity accorded to homosexuals and Muslims was not applied to Christians. "You can see, during demonstrations, that there are some very extremist Islamists getting away with horrendous behaviour," he said. "When Abu Hamza, the extremist jailed for incitement to murder, was initially ejected from the Finsbury Park mosque, he simply continued to preach in the street, blocking roads.
For months, police ignored the blocked roads and, instead, guarded his meetings, at a cost to the tax payer of £1 million. And yet, at his trial, it emerged that he had been under surveillance for years and nothing had been done.
"But when Christians are attacked merely for upholding their religion, often at the hands of Muslims, one never hears of it, for fear of offending Muslims.
"One wonders what will happen next. Dawn raids on Christian bookshops? Churches being sued for not hiring out their halls to gay groups? Being sued for not allowing double beds for homosexual couples at Christian hostels?"
Mr Calvert's concerns are not only about the differing treatment meted out to Christians and Muslims, but also at the way in which our increasingly politically correct society is threatening Christianity.
There have been a host of examples. It is now more than a decade since nativity plays were banned in some schools. Baroness Cox recalled that when her son, now 41, was an 11-year-old school boy, his school set down strict guidelines surrounding the celebration of Easter. "It was fine to mention Easter bunnies or bonnets," she said, "but not the religious significance of Easter. We were very unhappy about that, but were told it was school policy.
"It is the greatest and most precious part of our political and cultural heritage that we recognise the rights of all people to practise their own religion freely but, increasingly, we are seeing manifestations of restrictions on the freedom to practise and maintain our Christian heritage."
One who has fought back is Major Malcolm Hampton, of the Salvation Army. When his band was asked to play carols at the switching on of the Christmas lights in Oakengates, Shropshire, he refused, because the local council had rebranded the event as "winter celebrations" to avoid offending non-Christians.
It was, Mr Hampton felt, the final straw. "We decided to take a stand," he said. "We are a Christian church and it is a Christian festival which we did not want to see undermined or demeaned. They decided to remove the word Christmas from the event and we thought it was the thin end of the wedge. Enough is enough."
In recent decades, the Christian churches have faced dwindling congregations. While 46 million Britons consider themselves Christians and church attendance is no exact barometer of Christian commitment, fewer and fewer people worship on Sunday.
According to Christian Research, which has conducted surveys since 1979, about 11.7 per cent attended services on an average Sunday that year. By 1989, the figure was 9.9 and, in 1998, just 7.5 per cent.
The figures for 2005 will be published next week, but they are estimated to have fallen to 6.8 per cent. The arrival of many deeply-religious Poles to Britain may yet help reverse that trend, but the way forward, said Dr Sookhdeo, was to restore equality and freedom in matters of religion and belief. "If we are going to have a fair society then every religion must be subject to criticism and be willing to take criticism - so that we cannot protect one and attack the other."
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