The False Narrative of Christian Persecution

Yesterday I engaged in Tweet-off with Adrian Warnock, fellow new-resident at Patheos. He blogs from a Christian perspective, as a preacher at Jubilee Church London.

I had noticed Adrian, in his introductory post at Patheos, claims that “There is real hatred for Christian values in our culture today”. I was astonished by that statement, and tweeted him for clarification: can he truly believe this? Adrian has helpfully compiled the resulting discussion here.

With the greatest respect to Adrian, I do not believe it is remotely plausible to maintain that Christians are persecuted, far less hated in the UK. Let’s look at the gross facts: Christianity is the state religion and the head of state is the head of the Church; Christians can freely practice and promote their faith, in churches and in public; Christians hold numerous respected positions in public and political life – the Prime Minister is a Christian, as are many members of the government, of Parliament, leaders of industry and the arts etc; Christianity still has massive cultural power, and the history of the UK is inextricable from the influence of Christianity.

Consider this, from the website of Christians in Parliament, “an official all party group with a clear vision to encourage and support all Christians who work at Westminster, whether elected or not”:

there is more Christian activity in the Palace of Westminster than generally assumed and we aim to work out our faith in these corridors of power in a way that serves the nation as a whole and supports all those who work here. There is no single blueprint for a Christian working at Westminster…There are informal prayer and Bible study groups, and formal services in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, Methodist and Roman Catholic as well as Anglican. Both Houses of Parliament begin each day with prayer, led in the Commons by the Speaker’s Chaplain and in the Lords by a Bishop…Each year Westminster Hall hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, with the kind permission and active support of Mr. Speaker. We are also linked with other groups of Christians in the workplace, and overseas, often struggling in an environment more hostile to an open expression of faith than our own. [emphasis mine]

There seems to me no sense in which this describes an environment of persecution of Christians and hatred of Christian values. Could Christians in Parliament simply have missed it? If anything, what you see here is Christianity being privileged, through the Christian morning prayers, the active support of the authorities. And, generally, I think that as in parliament, so in UK life in general. Christianity is doing ok.

So what evidence does Adrian offer to defend his view? His tweets put forward a number of points:

“Many Christans I know are afraid to admit their faith becoz they will be mocked with the hostility modelled by e.g. Dawkins”

Mockery of ideas, even hostility, by an author in a popular book, is clearly not the same as persecution and hatred. In a free society ideas must be open to stringent, hostile, mocking critique by those who disagree. On occasion forms of mockery and hostility can constitute persecution or may be driven by hatred, but merely fearing your belief might be ridiculed is not the same as being subject to hatred. To equate mockery and hatred is to diminish the notion of hatred to a dangerous degree: Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder was hatred. The God Delusion is not.

“As an example of an issue that can spark the kind of animosity I am talking about check out link

Adrian links to an article about the issue of equal marriage to support his case, in which he claims:

“we have a problem where quite frankly extremists on both ends of the spectrum seem to hate and reject each other, and would in some cases ideally like to use the strong arm of the law to punish one another.”

Putting aside the rather disturbing way Adrian talks about gay people (“homosexuals”) in his post (almost as if we’re a monolithic interest group rather than full individuals with complex ideas and differences of opinion) I simply reject this analysis as non-factual. As a gay man I am deeply concerned that I gain fully equal rights alongside my fellow citizens. But I do not wish to hate, reject or punish those who disagree on this issue, and I know of no major advocate for gay rights who wishes to do so. Indeed the most sophisticated advocates of equal rights understand that were gay people to gain full recognition and equality it will be of benefit to those who oppose us – because we all are elevated when we create a more just society.

A full analysis of the piece would take a whole post, but Adrian’s claim that “Some who hold [the] traditional view of sex today already live in fear that even if they were to say to someone, “Well, personally, I am trying to live by what I believe the Bible teaches about relationships,” this could be enough to get them fired from their jobs, or worse” is absurd. I know of no case when anyone has been fired from their job because they simply expressed their personal desire to live according to a “traditional Christian” sexual morality. This is a fantasy, and if some truly do fear such an outcome, it is because people like Adrian paint this picture as a scare-tactic to galvanize them to action.

Registrars who felt they couldn’t perform civil union ceremonies [lost their jobs]

Let us say for the sake of argument that this is true. Does this equate to persecution of and hatred toward Christians? No. Registrars are agents of the state and are required to abide by its laws when they carry out their work. If – for any reason, religious or not, they decide they cannot fulfill their responsibilities, then they cannot continue in that job. What Adrian seems to desire is that Christians be allowed both to keep the status of a registrar and to disobey the law as it pertains to their particular duties. This is a dangerous view to take: how far should we extend such privileges based on religious conviction? Should Catholic registrars be allowed to refuse to remarry divorcees? Would Adrian object if an individual who refused to do so was told they cold no longer be a registrar? Or would he assert that every religious public official must be allowed to make their own law?

In short: to be denied unreasonable privilege is not to be oppressed, to be treated the same as everyone else is not to be hated.

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Love, Lust, and the Bible: A Further Response to Matthew Vines
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About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.


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