It is clearly a day for big questions – I blame it on my priest and his sermon this morning asking us why we went to Church and what we thought it meant to be a Christian in our times and our society when we were ‘under threat’
There is much in the UK Press at the moment about Christians here being ‘persecuted’ in various ways and going to the European Court of Human Rights to secure the right to practice their faith in the public sphere. The Archbishop of Canterburyy does not think that what is being complained of amounts to persecution, whilst others argue that unless we find a ‘louder voice’ we risk falling into a situation where real persecution might become possible.
Across the Western world we see the position which our grandparents’ generation took for granted in terms of Christianity’s place in the public square undermined and overturned. To call that ‘persecution’ risks our not having a word to describe what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Nigeria and Pakistan; but to treat it as though it is of no account is to risk not noticing the thin end of what might turn out to be a very fat wedge.
I wear a crucifix. I have worn it since my confirmation at the age of 14. I feel naked without it. It is not a requirement that I wear it, but it is a promise I made to God. My place of work has no policy on such matters, but if it told me I could not wear it I should feel indignant and I would feel threatened. There is nothing in my faith which tells me anything other than to be kind to others, and therefore when I am at work I don’t care what sexuality, race or views the people I serve have; all are one to me and my job is to help.
That, for me, is where my faith comes into the public sphere. I try to be as efficient and hard-working and as conscientious as possible because I feel that is what being a Christian requires of me. So, however tempting it is in quiet moments to slip onto the blog and see what is going on, I don’t. I will do so in my lunch-hour, but I will do so on my own i-pad rather than use the company’s equipment. No one would notice if I used the work computer – but I would, and that’s enough for me.
My priest tells me that is over-scrupulosity, and he is no doubt right, but for me to do otherwise would be to use for my own purposes something which is for work. Likewise, I do not expect work to tell me what I may wear by way of representing my faith.
But that’s a grey area, I know. I work in a public space, and my office is the first thing people coming into my department see, and I am the public face of the University. So, I dress smartly, because I want that to reflect well on work when people pop in to see me. I see some colleagues wearing skirts which are rather short, and tops which are rather low, but I choose not to follow them. So how would it be if work told me I must not wear my crucifix, but said nothing about a skirt so short that it attracted attention?
I think I would feel profoundly offended. But what if I had a big crucifix on my wall, and religious statuary? Well, although I have both at home, I don’t have them in the work-place, as my office is a public one, and I would think it wrong. My co-author actually has, and has had for years, a crucifix on his office wall and some icons, but as his office is not a public space in the same way, he feels under no obligation in the way I do.
So, I suppose I am saying that to me, these things are a matter of common sense. Limits are set by one’s sense of common purpose, and the better for it. But in the end, if work told me to take off my crucifix or leave, I should leave. If I am forbidden to make any personal statement of my faith in the public sphere, I shall retreat from it – and take whatever consequences there might be.