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British Christians aren't persecuted, but they are held in contempt
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As a rule, when Church of England bishops start talking about being persecuted, from the drawing rooms of their palaces or over tea in the House of Lords, it's time to start counting the spoons. For a start, it sounds fairly pathetic compared with the 100 million or so Christians from Iraq and Pakistan to the Republic of China who are suffering real persecution. Come to that, their complaints ring hollow compared with the virtual bile that gets spewed in the direction of Muslims in the blogosphere, should any of us offer the outrageous suggestion that not all of them are bent on the destruction of civilisation as we know it.

To be fair, our bishops have an honourable record of speaking up for oppressed Christians abroad. And the letter that seven of them, including Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote to The Sunday Telegraph highlights a real problem: the embarrassment and contempt in which our established, national faith is held.

But, as ever, the bishops are right for the wrong reasons, as when they point to the undeniable and horrific injustices of Third World poverty and then suggest it's all because we shop at Waitrose and don't ride our bicycles enough.

In this latest instance, they invoke the case of Shirley Chaplin, (yet another) Christian nurse, who is taking the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust to an employment tribunal because her hospital has asked her to remove a necklace cross or conceal it under her clothing. The puce-faced bishops go on about "disrespect" and "discrimination" and rise to a climax with the claim that "there have been numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised society".

Really? Numerous dismissals? I don't buy that. A handful of cases of alleged injustice, maybe. Actually, I don't think the bishops even buy their own case. The tell-tale sign comes towards the end of their letter when they write that "any policy that regards the cross as 'just an item of jewellery' is deeply disturbing". I suspect what they suspect: that Nurse Chaplin is the victim of a restriction on the wearing of jewellery, not of religious discrimination.

This is what we might call the BA Cross Syndrome. In 2006, Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee, was told that she couldn't wear a cross necklace, so she claimed religious discrimination and was suspended. Christian groups took up her cause, but she lost her court claims for compensation, as it became apparent that BA's rules were about uniform, not religious policy (although BA did review its dress rules subsequently).

And please don't tell me that wearing a cross is like people of other faiths being allowed to wear head-scarves or turbans. In some jobs, say baggage-handling or those to do with medical equipment, jewellery can be dangerous. Nor is there a cultural requirement, even from Lord Carey, for Christians to wear crosses. Proper equivalence and grounds for complaint would exist if, as a hospital chaplain, I was told to remove my dog collar because it might cause offence.

However, I'm not saying that there isn't a problem for Christianity in Britain. Yesterday, Palm Sunday, I picked up the York Courses Lent booklet in church and learnt from it within seconds that, since 2008, Salisbury Council has asked staff to refrain from using the phrase "singing from the same hymn-sheet" because it might offend non-believers; that during the filming of a traditional wedding for Coronation Street, producers obscured a cross for fear it might offend non-Christian viewers; and that David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, has sent out statements to mark Ramadan and the Jewish New Year, but neglected to send Christmas or Easter messages. And all that was in a devotional guide, for heaven's sake.

But we're not going to address this problem with bishops attacking irrelevant corporate dress codes. I'm with Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, when he told me just before Christmas that the trouble with politicians is that they assume that religion "is a problem, it's an eccentricity, it's practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities. The effect is to
de-normalise faith, to intensify the perception that faith is not part of our bloodstream."

Much of that attitude is driven by dogmatic secularists, who want to drive religion from the public sphere, though they offer no substantial replacement for it. That is where resistance should be directed, by our religious leaders and by parliamentarians of the Christian faith.

Politics needs to make faith normal, so that the enormous social resource that the Church of England offers can be put back to work. Perhaps the 26 bishops who sit in the House of Lords could play a role in that normalising process. Who knows, that way they might even make the wearing of crosses quite normal, which would please them

Source >  Telegraph

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