Comments: religious rights of Christians

I generally think it's ludicrous when people on my side of the pond claim that Christians are being persecuted here...the facts are so obviously otherwise (anyone think it's likely that Ramadan or Passover will be declared federal holidays?) that an unbiased observer can only shake his head ruefully.

But for Christians in a nation where a Christian church is not only the established church, but where the head of state is the supreme head of that church and its spiritual leaders sit in the legislature to claim persecution, well....

In the immortal words of Daffy Duck, "It is to laugh."

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Tuesday, 30 March 2010 at 11:21am BST

'It makes bishops and the churches look stupid.'

Thus J Bartley. How right he is. All this persecution stuff is silly, self-indulgent, self-obsessed nonsense. Some of my work colleagues (agnostic/atheist academics) sometimes tease me for going to church. When told: 'they're laughing at you, Diogenes', Diogenes the Cynic replied: 'But I am not laughed at'. Dignity, self-respect, inner calm: these things are woefully absent from these Christians' armoury. Then they wonder why so many of their fellow-Christians decline to follow their dictates.

Posted by john at Tuesday, 30 March 2010 at 11:35am BST

When is Lord Carey going to retire from public life? Even the noble Baroness Thatcher has not haunted her political successors to the extent that My Lord Carey feels impelled to do to his long-suffering ecclesiastical one.

Lord Carey, the Bishop of Winchester and the other Lords Spiritual who signed the Telegraph letter criticise modern Britain from their perspective as exclusively male elderly unelected legislators. They may well represent a certain strand of disaffected BNP-voting types, but any claims to hold a brief for British Christians in the broader sense should, and I hope will be, taken with a pinch of salt by the wider society.

This British Christian thinks it's a very good thing that churches should find themselves in a post-deferential age, where respect has to be earned on the strength of the credibility of their current comportment in British society, rather than using up previous generations' accumulated stash of ecclesiastical privileges. A leaner, more open, humbler Church can only be good, as far as I can see. The counter-cultural values of Jesus, which the conservatives are forever reminding us gays about, seem to me quite clearly to involve eschewing the whole business of wielding social power and influence, of siding with the privileged and the mighty. Howls of outrage that one feels one's privileges ebbing away sit rather uneasily with the way of Jesus, as far as I can see it.

Posted by Fr Mark at Tuesday, 30 March 2010 at 2:59pm BST

A nurse was asked to remove her cross, and suddenly Christians everywhere are being systematically persecuted in Great Britain? I don’t think so.
Ask Christians in China, or Baha'is in Iran, or Jews in Syria, and they'll be glad to tell you what real persecution is. If the ONLY persecution Chinese Christians had to put up with was being forbidden to wear crosses in public, they'd be dancing for joy.
None of the articles I clicked on stated the specific reason this nurse was asked to remove her cross. Like one commentary said, it may be a ban on jewellery in general, and regardless of the significance to the wearer, a cross can be seen as a piece of jewellery when it comes to occupational safety or other issues. A cross or a Star of David can foul up medical equipment or procedures just as surely as a pearl pendant can.
In fact, I’d argue that if in certain situations, the NHS was asking that no jewellery of any kind is to be worn, including crosses and the like, I’d argue that’s the very opposite of discrimination. Why should this nurse be told it’s OK to wear her cross, but another nurse has to remove a gold-chain necklace, for safety reasons?
The reference to "marriage" by the bishops in their letter gives away the store, in my opinion. Apparently, Christians are being persecuted because gay people can obtain civil partnerships, and because some religious denominations acknowledge and celebrate those couples in a religious setting. Horrors! Why, the lions have returned!
As long as a specific Christian denomination is the established religion with rights and privileges, and only that specific denomination has a right to automatic membership in the upper legislative body, I hardly think there is persecution going on.

Posted by peterpi at Tuesday, 30 March 2010 at 3:18pm BST

I wonder if the Lord Carey wants cheese with his whine. Claims of special privilege are always demeaning and insulting in a pluralistic society, especially coming from one who is draped in all the privilege that the title "Lord" caries with it.

Posted by jnwall at Tuesday, 30 March 2010 at 4:22pm BST

I have not read all of the articles above, but I have a question about the ban on jewelry. When I did my summer quarter of CPE [summer hospital chaplaincy]as part of the ordination process, our supervisor told the two young men in our group not to wear neckties as a safety measure. An agitated patient might grab a tie and cause discomfort if not injury. I suspect she would have said the same about a necklace for the women in the group.

My question is, did the hospital object to the cross on grounds of a general ban on jewelry, on grounds of safety, or what?

Many organizations and businesses that have a uniformed workforce are pretty strict about having the uniforms be - uh - uniform.

And as one of the commentators above noted, there is a difference between a religious item being required of the believer or optional.

Tempest in a teapot, anyone?

Posted by Cynthjia Gilliatt at Tuesday, 30 March 2010 at 4:42pm BST

Oh Please! Give us all a break Lord Carey. Isn't it time you open your mind and your heart to INCLUDE those glbt Christians which you so much wish to EXCLUDE and disinvite to Christ's table? How about giving some of these people rights too? The former Archbishop of Canterbury reminds me so much of the Roman Catholic Archbishops here in America (as in: Dolan of New York City) trying to get their Red Hats by maintaining that there is a plot to discredit "orthodox" Christians and deny them of their rights. Sound familiar dear Anglican sisters and brothers? Carey and Dolan sound to me like they are cut from the same cloth. Another "Oh Please, moment!"

Posted by Chris Smith at Tuesday, 30 March 2010 at 10:59pm BST

Many Christians, British and otherwise, have spent lifetimes, indeed, thousands of years persecuting, demoralizing, purifying (themselves and others/less-pure through bloodshed)...the busiest of bodies have spent zillions of hours examining, blaming, shaming, ridiculing, burning/murdering and jailing/nailing the others (that would be the heathens wherever it was decided that heathenhood was running rampant...mostly in Africa these days/daze)...suddenly the TRUE light is going on and humanity has NEARLY had enough of the darkly vicious and self-righteous (to the extreme) nonsense at CHURCH! Most spiritually and emotionally healthy folk aren´t much attracted to the absense of GENUINE LOVE and nurturing of the ¨least¨...guess, what? Hark! The religious RIGHT and RIGHTEOUS are offended...suddenly they´ve got nothing left to do but bark and duck into the far reaches of civilization whining...of course they will take they´re necessary potshots to preserve what they INSIST is RIGHT (God forbid, yes God, they become enlightened along their clammouring way to extinction). Lord, hear my Prayer

Posted by Leonardo Ricardo at Wednesday, 31 March 2010 at 4:25am BST

"The former Archbishop of Canterbury - the leader of Anglicans world-wide - George Carey, with six other senior Church of England bishops, has accused Gordon Brown's government of 'persecuting' Christians in Britain."
- Mary Kenny in The Irish Independent -

One only has to read the names of the other six bishops to understand where all the hand-wringing is coming from. Each of these prelates of the Church of England is quaking in their pants lest they have to leave the comfort-zone of their establishment status in the C.of E. If that meant that Bishops in the House of Lords were no longer able to throw their weight around on matters of civil liberties, such a move might be in the best interests of Christendom as a whole - let alone the Church of England.

For ex-Primate George Carey to continue his lobbying campaign against the government and any movement towards the liberalisation of the Gospel initiatives being undertaken in other parts of the Anglican Communion does him no favours in the eyes of his fellow Anglicans - most of whom would like the Church to start living in the real world, which has moved on since the Victorian days of Pax Britannica.

The Church of England in particular enjoys more privileges in England than any other religious denomination. To say that the government is in any way 'persecuting' Christians is to belittle the very real persecution of minority Christians in other parts of the world. These bishops should be ashamed of themselves - or move to Iraq!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 31 March 2010 at 9:37am BST

You know, I feel sorry for all those poor flashers and public-urinaters whose rights are denied them, who are discriminated against in this secular society!

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 31 March 2010 at 11:28am BST

Mercifully, the process has begun of appointing Prelates to the Lords on merit, not merely on retirement. Soon there will be none who simply can't recognize that their greatest gift to their Office was to have retired from it.

Posted by Lister Tonge at Wednesday, 31 March 2010 at 12:27pm BST

Is anyone else besides me reading ++Rowan Williams's Ecumenical Letter as an oblique rebuke to Lord Carey and the other bishop signatories?

Posted by Charlotte at Wednesday, 31 March 2010 at 9:02pm BST

Yes Charlotte, somebody is reading the letter in the way you suggest. See my latest posting here.

[And please make any more comments on the letter there and not here.]

Posted by Peter Owen at Wednesday, 31 March 2010 at 9:56pm BST

Concerning the nurse-with(out)-the-cross issue, the Guardian says she was asked to remove the cross for safety reasons (and it was actually the necklace that the cross was on that was the problem) ( ):

"The hospital says she was asked to remove the necklace after a risk assessment showed it could be pulled by one of the elderly and sometimes confused patients in her care.

"It insists it is a health and safety issue and that the problem is not with the crucifix but the necklace it was attached to."

Posted by dr.primrose at Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 12:02am BST

I do sense a degree of ambivalence in myself in regard to this topic. On the one hand, I agree with, say, Brendan McCarthy over at the Tablet:

He seems to be saying the Catholic Church is suffering the blow it is, because
this scandal comes atop the attritional
devastation caused rather by a longer-term second-rate doctrinal regime coupled with
the slow death of many aspects of Church life.

Therefore, I find all this talk of 'persecution' merely the foam over the deeps, as they sluice away in the CofE: these deep waters meaning: any incisiveness of thought, confident richness in practice, a genuine intellectuality, a deep and meaningful meditation on the back of a
reality that we all share: the person of Christ.

On the other hand, I think there is a cheap political difference being moulded when it comes to faith. For all its own speciousness,
'Islamophobia' has greater political traction than this notion of 'Persecution' (the capitalisation is intentional). The ordinary person on the Christian Street is aping
this tactic; for Muslims, this has been incredibly successful as rhetorical Judo. Joe and Jane Christian want a bit of the same action.
Are Muslims being persecuted here as they are in Iraq, by each other? No. But who here would castigate Bolton Sunnis with a grievance about
Islamophobia by reacting in the same way: "go to Iraq"?

At a tangent, I was impressed with Giles
Fraser on Radio 4 yesterday. His
argument was that the sacrifice of the servicemen and women he has encountered was a direct antidote to a deep, damaging cynicism in society as a whole.

What Jane and Joe Christian are doing is reacting to the superficial aspects of this strand of cynicism in society, which expresses itself as derision and disdain of Christians. Yes, they are taking it personally, and I have witnessed this myself: it's not pretty and it's not the sort of discourse we would expect from the TLS.

Yet, when Jane and Joe Christian cry 'foul', they are immediately told - "You are to blame, with your bigotry and your hypocrisy, your
irrationality, and your superstitions, your willingness to take offence, and your defensiveness".

Yes, they are all that, but you are missing the point. They see the outward signs of this corrosive cynicism, and they are rightfully perturbed, whether they understand it fully, or not.

Posted by Achilles at Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 1:20pm BST

"Institutionally, the Church has a way of speaking about sexuality refracted through centuries of celibacy and asceticism that does not capture the lived experience of it. In Ireland, the Church tried to impose sexual ethics by strict legislative coercion. When coercion was no longer possible, there was no persuasive power to take its place; the Church’s radical inarticulateness about sex was the fatal context for scandals that brought it low.
- Brendan McCarthy in The Tablet -

Thanks, Achilles, for pointing us to this article.

When reading most of Brendan's article in The Tablet, I couldn't help thinking that, in certain ways, his reference to the Irish R.C. Church might well be replicated in the experience of the Church of England. An out-dated understanding of human sexuality in our 'Mother Church' in England has dogged the footsteps of Rome on this aspect of the need for a proper dialogue with the LGBT community around the whole Communion. This has led to outbursts from the likes of the former ABC, Lord Carey, + Winchester and former + Rochester in the press, which vilifies and denies the integrity of faithful monogamous same-sex relationships in the Church.

This, in turn, has led to suspicion of any life-affirming and prophetic ministry undertaken by other Provinces of the Church - like TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada - towards the inclusion of homosexuals within the life and ministry of the Church. Until this blindness towards the integrity of the gay community is overcome - by proper theological debate, the Church will continue to be irrelevant to the society in which it seeks to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 1 April 2010 at 11:46pm BST
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