This weekend the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, used a prominent article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper to protest that "Britain's Christians are being vilified".
Lord Carey says worshippers are being “vilified” by the state, treated as “bigots” and sacked simply for expressing their beliefs.
He says Christians will face a “religious bar” to employment if rulings against wearing crosses and expressing their beliefs are not reversed.
He writes: “In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by State bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong."
And he continues:
“It is now Christians who are persecuted; often sought out and framed by homosexual activists [..] Christians are driven underground. There appears to be a clear animus to the Christian faith and to Judaeo-Christian values. Clearly the courts of the United Kingdom require guidance.”
Carey is over-stating his case, of course. And we've got to assume that he must know that, for the law is clear.
I've written before (here and here for instance) about the way in which the right to have a personal religion or belief, the right to change that belief, and the right to worship in peace is protected as a "qualified" human right. I've also written about the way in which any conflicts raised between this and other rights can be addressed.
It's disarmingly simple really. You have that right to believe or worship what you wish; but this is a world away from having any right to impose that belief on others. Believe that women are second class or that homosexuality is sinful if you feel you must, for instance … but you don't have a right to override the legal protections enjoyed by other people.
And it's clear that Christians have a privileged position … far in excess of what is enjoyed by others under that legislated protection...
- The Church of England is not just any old religion. It is established at the heart of the British state, headed by the monarch
- Bishops have automatic seats in the House of Lords, with a direct say over every piece of legislation to pass through Parliament
- Schools have statutory obligations to stage an act of worship in assembly every day -- and the current government has massively increased the state support for church run teaching establishments
- BBC radio has a slot for religious belief in prime time weekday breakfast programming; and both TV and Radio have wall-to-wall programming on Sunday
- The primacy of Christianity is still recognised by forcing shops to close on Christmas and Easter Days
- And clerics such as Lord Carey have an almost guaranteed platform for their views in most newspapers
Pot meet kettle
The assertion that Christianity is the new underdog in society is therefore risible.
- Christians are not singled out for vicious persecution and bullying in the way that many disabled, BME and LGBT people report
- You don't hear of Christians suffering from stigma-induced depression in the way that many women, ethnic minorities, disabled people, gays, lesbians and trans folk regularly do
- There is no movement asserting that religious belief is a "choice" or targeting Christians or other religious believers for quack "cures" to change them
- You don't often hear of Christians being thrown out and disowned by their parents because of their beliefs
By comparison, Christianity seems to have very much defined its brand in terms of targeting others...
- Roman Catholicism has set itself against birth control for women since modern methods were invented in the 1960s.
- Even as I write, there are moves to roll back provisions which make abortion available to Women in Britain. Women come to Britain from other countries where abortion has been banned through Christian dogma
- The Church of England is still torn over whether to allow women to become Bishops, with some followers defecting to the Roman Catholic Church in protest at the idea
- Roman Catholics have systematically covered up industrial scale abuse of children around the world
- Christians have opposed every move in the last 50 years to emancipate lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, included blatant deception and misrepresentation when it has suited
For all this, we still have an attitude of benign tolerance towards Christianity … recognising that the extremists who hijack its power in order to vilify minorities are not representative of the whole. As the law makes clear, we respect the right to worship God in peace and safety, whilst protecting the rights of others from abuses carried out in God's name.
In Christian terms we turn the other cheek and take note of the imperative to "love thy neighbour".
With all that in mind, Lord Carey's statements must be seen as a profound insult by many women whom his Church has cast as second class citizens; by all the Children who've been abused under the protection of the Church; and by all the LGBT people who may feel that the Church has gone out of its way to vilify them.
Those people know what real vilification and marginalisation mean.
Not for them a prominent article in a national broadsheet paper.
Not for them a guaranteed daily slot on prime time radio.
Not for them blanket coverage on Sunday radio and TV, and an almost automatic seat in any forum where issues of fairness or morality are to be debated.
Not for them the backing of an institution with hundreds of millions of pounds in assets, acquired by taking donations from the poor.
Out of touch
Lord Carey has amply demonstrated how out of touch he is with the genuine experiences of marginalised groups by crying "poor me" when the law seeks to limit the worst excesses of his followers.
And that is the point. His cries of anguish come because the courts have challenged the right of Christians to hold themselves above laws against discrimination which apply to the rest of us.
It is time to say "enough is enough".
It is time for the established Church to wake up and realise that, for whatever reason, it has become synonymous with discrimination rather than love.
At a time when there are immense problems in the world, Carey and his successors have chosen to obsess about women Bishops and opposing complete equality for LGBT people.
Faced with the opportunity to have a real role in the debate over banking excesses, the Church flunked it.
And articles like this weekend's one by Lord Carey continue the decline into irrelevance.