There’s a letter from a group of bishops in the Sunday Telegraph
It’s interesting that it always seems to be the same lot: Ah! Nazir-Ali! Ah! Scott-Joynt! Ah! George Carey – bless him! I hesitate to call them “the usual suspects” – that would be unfair – but you know what I mean. When Bishop Mike Hill signs one of these letters I might sit up and take notice.
The letter is about “apparent discrimination against Christians”. I agree with one of their points, as does Shami Chakribati:
Whether personal faith motivates the wearing of a cross, turban, head scarf or Star of David, it is fundamentally illiberal to require people to check such an important part of themselves at the workplace door for no justifiable reason.
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion should protect people of all faiths and none.
We look forward to the Supreme Court demonstrating this by overturning the Court of Appeal in Nadia Eweida’s case against BA.
However, three things pop up here for me.
Firstly, I really do think it is crazy to start talking in terms of generic “discrimination against Christians” in this country. The Church of England is the established church, for goodness sake. The Head of State is its head. This is the only country in the world where religious leaders sit, as of right, in the legislature. The chips are stacked hugely in the favour of the Church of England.
Secondly, they’re talking about a case coming up at a employment tribunal in Exeter. It really is a bit over-the-top for six bishops to be writing to the Telegraph as if there is some sort of national upheaval based primarily on a case which is about to come to an employment tribunal. They could at least wait a bit for it to work its way through the courts, if it does. They could be rightly accused of showing off their muscle a bit unnecessarily (perish the thought).
Thirdly, the bishops write:
To be asked by an employer to remove or “hide” the cross, is asking the Christian to hide their faith.
Well, no it isn’t. Whatever happened to:
by their fruit you will recognize them. (?)
Surely, the main way to display one’s faith is to live it, is it not? And whatever happened to:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (?)
I really think that the way forward on this is to quietly carry on daily with one’s faith with quiet forbearance (turn the other cheek). One doesn’t have to be showy about it and it certainly doesn’t need six bishops writing to the Telegraph to further the faith.
UPDATE: @alexwilock alerted me to an excellent piece on Ekklesia about this. It’s by Jonathan Bartley:
…what of the claim that there have been “numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.” ?
To my knowledge, even the most extreme pressure groups like Christian Concern for our Nation and the Christian Legal Centre who are stoking and reinforcing the Christian persecution complex, haven’t made the claim that there have been “numerous dismissals”. So far they have pointed to only a handful of examples where there is some alleged injustice. Rarely have this small number involved dismissal. And even where they have, upon further investigation, the claims have tended to fall apart. Indeed, in one case, it even seemed to be the intervention of Christian campaigners which brought the dismissal about, after confidential client details were given to a national newspaper. In another, CLC claimed dismissal and then reinstatement, when dismissal never actually seems to have occurred.
The bishops should cite these “numerous” cases, or shut up. Why?
1. It is bearing false witness to what is actually going on.
2. It is creating and then reinforcing a ‘victim’ mentality amongst some in the churches, which makes Christians fearful, inward looking and preoccupied with their own interests.
3. It is fuelling extremists such as the BNP who are making political capital out of the scaremongering. They are associating, as the bishops are doing too, the ‘marginalisation’ of Christians with the idea that other religions – in particular Islam – are getting better treatment
4. It makes bishops and the churches look stupid. When the claims of ‘persecution’ are scrutinized they usually fall apart. And even if one were to believe that all the claims discrimination were entirely true, their statement it is a clear exaggeration.
5. It polarises and entrenches positions and often destroys any chances of mediation in specific cases by publicly raising the stakes.
6. It is causing Christians to misinterpret honest misunderstandings in the workplace, and react innapropriately when they might otherwise be sorted out much more effectively.
7. It fails to acknowledge that there are usually Christians on both sides of the various cases which are cited.
8. It devalues the real persecution of Christians that is going on around the world, as well as that experienced by Christians historically – sometimes at the hands of other Christians
9. It makes it very hard to spot where there might be genuine cases of victimisation and injustice.
10. It is helping to create a reputation for Christians in the workplace as unreasonable and irrational, whose voice has little validity.