Douglas Murray makes a striking point on his Spectator blog about the violent persecution that many Christians face across the globe, while the Church of England fights over gay marriage and women bishops. Christians in this country do fear that they are being persecuted, too, with a case making the headlines at the weekend about a Baptist who had unsuccessfully sued her employers for forcing her to work Sundays.
Actually, in Celestina Mba’s case, it does sound rather unfair that she came under pressure to work on Sundays when she had asked at the start of her employment to be exempted from doing so on the grounds of her religious belief. The judge rejected her case, observing that Sunday as a holy day isn’t a fundamental requirement of the Christian faith. He’s right there: the Bible does talk about observing a Sabbath, but Sunday isn’t specified. The ‘fundamental requirement’ of the Christian faith is faith itself, not deeds. Besides, those who work for the church tend to take their Sabbaths on a Saturday: Sunday doesn’t feel like a day of rest at all if you’re a staff member at a bustling church.
But are Christians in Britain being persecuted? Not if you compare them to those in Indonesia, Egypt or Syria, certainly. There’s an argument that they are being marginalised in this country: the census recorded a drop in those declaring themselves Christians, but one might argue that this is simply because it’s now perfectly acceptable and fashionable, even, not to subscribe to a religious belief. At least those writing ‘Christian’ might also be those attending church out of choice, rather than under duress as in generations gone by. Unlike in many other countries, Christians are free to attend Church and free to explain their religious convictions to others. The growth of the Alpha Course, for example, doesn’t suggest widespread persecution.
There’s also, dare I say it, a mistaken assumption by some Christians that every dispute they face at work is ‘persecution’, rather than perhaps a result of some misguided behaviour on their part. Perhaps if the Catholic Church maintained its opposition to gay marriage without its leading lights saying things like this, there would be a little less vitriol directed at it (mind you, Richard Dawkins gives them a run for their money with his polite comments about the church, too). Some rows, such as the one about this Christian housing association worker who was asked not to display a palm cross in a certain place in his van, don’t seem an inevitable consequence of someone being open about their faith in the workplace, either.
A few months ago, I listened with dismay to a fellow churchgoer boasting that he’d scolded his boss for swearing in the office, not because the Christian was being forced to use language he disliked himself, but because his colleague’s behaviour ‘offended my Christian values’. The Bible is quite clear that obedience to its teachings follows faith, rather than legalism creating the conditions for belief, so why should Christians force those who don’t believe to behave in the same way that they do? In some cases, rather than persecution, the problem might be a little closer to home than it seems.