In the light of what we have seen of the fate of so many Christians in the Church of the East and in the Coptic and other churches, we in the West, should be very careful before daring to use the word ‘persecution’. The fact that some secularists bring cases against Churches or individual Christians, and the fact that some courts rule against us in ways we don’t approve of, and even the legislation in the UK for gay marriage, should not lead us to cry ‘wolf’ too loudly. Indeed, as with the boy who did just that, our word might not be currency when it becomes really true.
One feature of the British cases, picked up by The Daily Telegraph, is, however, worrying, and it is the intolerance with which local councils and employers seem to have pursued these cases. Now I am not a lawyer and can’t comment on the legality – but the Telegraph is right to focus on the loss of the old British pragmatism and tolerance. There was a time, not too long ago, when cases like these would have been sorted out without resort to the law – but not any more. But does that not cut both ways? To what extent were the Christians here willing to compromise? Even a quick reading of the cases shows that intransigence was not all on one side. If we go on about ‘persecution’ and seem to be bringing it on ourselves, then that is not, even in the short, run, going to be good for anyone.
None of that is to deny that there is a sneering and nasty atheism in our society which takes a delight in rubbishing all we hold dear – but what do we want – to be exempt from criticism? To have the right to decided what we think is fair criticism? Just because we have inherited a society which used to treat us with more respect than it does now, we don’t have the right to claim to be exempt from criticism or even ridicule.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a society in the West where defence has all but vanished. Celebrity has replaced it, but as ‘celebrities’ know, they can be torn down as quickly as they were raised up by the media. Some point out that the media does not ridicule Islam, but we know why that is, and would we really want people to lay off us because we were the sort of people who’d cut their throats?
If, as in the on-going debate in the UK over gay marriage, we Christians give the impression that we are motivated by dislike for homosexuals, then we fail to witness effectively to our Faith and to Christ. As an orthodox Christian I am convinced by the teaching of our Faith and by its tradition, and so cannot agree with those who regard active homosexuality as not being sinful. But then I take the same view on sex outside of marriage and adultery – and I don’t see my Church making much of a fuss about those two sexual sins.
So, if we are not careful, we can look both hypocritical and paranoid. Of course, some out there are out to persecute us, but let us not mistake their intentions for the actions of our society as a whole.