I wholeheartedly agree with the archbishop of Westminster Rt Rev Vincent Nichols who is quoted in the Guardian as saying:
I personally don’t feel in the least bit persecuted. I don’t think Christians should use that word.
In fact, if Western Christians are to self-define as “persecuted” then we need a new term to coin the brutalisation of Christian minority groups in Islamic lands and elsewhere.
Nichols goes on to say:
“what might have started out as an acknowledgement of a variety of religious and philosophical positions has produced a seeming determination to tear the legal and therefore cultural life of the country away from its Christian roots.”
Again, absolutely right. And I will be the first to acknowledge that the secular agenda is on the ascendancy in the UK. However, this still does not equate to “persecution” in the true sense of the word.
It is entirely possible of course, that the UK Christian ‘persecution narrative’ is based on a subjective perception that we are witnessing the thin edge of the wedge, and I think this is the very heart of the matter. UK Christian persecution anxieties are not so much based on current events, but on the perception of what may be on the horizon. We can see a slippery slope and it makes us edgy.
Let me elaborate on the UK Christian “persecution narrative” as I see it. I believe it is a self-reinforcing group narrative within which subjective perceptions are evidenced as an objective reality. Firstly, you cite a few recent high profile legal cases. Any that were successful prove the encroaching persecution; any that were unsuccessful prove the anti-Christian bias of the law courts. Either way the narrative is affirmed and the lawyers make money.
All of this “evidence” of persecution perpetuates the narrative, leading to a subcultural “moral panic” that potentially precipitates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Many outside of Christianity perceive Christians to be lamenting the loss of a privileged position and status within our culture, rather than anything else. Sometimes I can’t blame them. Many of the recent high profile Christian ‘persecution’ legal cases have revolved around the ‘Equality’ laws and many in society are annoyed, as they perceive Christians as believing they should be exempt from such laws. Yesterday Sir Trevor Phillips, the Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was quoted as saying:
…..the law stops at the door of the temple as far as I am concerned.
Of course, this cuts both ways.
The crux of Phillips’ argument is that it is only inside a church or religious institution that believers can apply their own rules. Phillips also makes the argument that if we make exceptions for Christians, then we need also make exceptions for others; for example, the implementation of Sharia law. There is a logic to this in my mind.
In truth, no government will really be able to legislate for ‘offense’ or ‘equality’ for everybody, as it is inevitable that as a result of these laws, some will actually become discriminated against. Personally I believe the government should legislate as little as possible in this area of life.
Given the hostility of the world towards Jesus, should we always expect the world to be nice and friendly towards us? Is this even a healthy state of affairs for the Church, as it can potentially foster complacency and too much involvement in worldly affairs?
The truth is, if we define ourselves by our victimhood, we have a massive problem, as we ape the society around us, which is dominated by a hierarchy of victimhood.
In conclusion, I will state that I personally don’t feel that I belong to a beleaguered minority; we’re everywhere and I think Christians need to be more confident about who we are.
UK Christians need to stop using the word “persecution” for fear of devaluing the term. We may experience areas of discrimination, belittlement, exclusion, and so forth – Who doesn’t – but this is patently and qualitatively different to persecution.
Anyway, when did Jesus say it would be an easy ride?