Archbishop Carey: A Reply

Loyal readers will remember two previous fracases with Lord Carey, former Arch B of C. It appears he has failed to read those posts, or was not convinced by them, for he wrote a piece, entitled “The PM has done more than any leader to make Christians feel they’re persecuted” in the Daily Mail on Friday.

“At least I’m not the baby-eating bishop of Bath & Wells.”

I quote him in full and respond as appropriate.

“I like David Cameron and believe he is genuinely sincere in his desire to make Britain a generous nation where we care for one another and where people of faith may exercise their beliefs fully.

But it was a bit rich to hear that the Prime Minister has told religious leaders that they should ‘stand up and oppose aggressive secularisation’ when it seems that his government is aiding and abetting this aggression every step of the way.

At his pre-Easter Downing Street reception for faith leaders, he said that he supported Christians’ right to practise their faith. Yet many Christians doubt his sincerity. According to a new ComRes poll more than two-thirds of Christians feel that they are part of a ‘persecuted minority’.

Much as I want to, it would be a bit rich to say ‘Christians are wrong to say they feel persecuted’. If they feel it, fine.

They are not, however, a minority. By the 2011 Census* they are 59.3% of the country. So if this (admittedly small) sample can err here, perhaps it also errs in its wider feeling of persecution.

Their fears may be exaggerated because few in the UK are actually persecuted, but the Prime Minister has done more than any other recent political leader to feed these anxieties.

The first clause is a very agreeable admission, well done Carey.

He seems to have forgotten in spite of his oft-repeated support for the right of Christians to wear the cross, that lawyers acting for the Coalition argued only months ago in the Strasbourg court that those sacked for wearing a cross against their employer’s wishes should simply get another job.

The bish refers to Eweida v British Airways plc [2010]. I’d suggest he errs a little in his Straw Man. If his account was true, then I’d agree Ms Eweida (a check-in clerk) was treated with discrimination. However, the summary glosses numerous important points:
– BA initially asked her to wear her crucifix on the inside of her clothes since it contravened their longstanding jewellery policy. It was not a religious issue. They allow employees to wear religious non-jewellery.
– BA offered to compromise, and allow Ms Eweida to wear a crucifix on her lapel, just not as a necklace, due to health concerns (getting caught as she moved baggage.)
– BA offered Ms Eweida a job off the front-line, where she could wear the crucifix openly.
– After losing numerous court cases, and having repeatedly rejected BA’s settlement offers (up to £8,500), Ms Eweida did indeed take the Government to the ECHR in Strasbourg. Since she was prosecuting the Government for not protecting her rights, the Government had to mount some defence.
– Most saliently to Carey’s argument, Eweida (and three others) won at the ECHR, was awarded £26,600 (costs and damages) AND David Cameron commented that he was “delighted” that the “principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld”. I am not delighted, but DC felt people “shouldn’t suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs”.

More shockingly, the Equalities Minister, Helen Grant, recently gave her support to the Labour MP Chris Bryant’s campaign to turn the 700-year-old Parliamentary chapel of St Mary Undercroft into a multi-faith prayer room so that gay couples can get married there. The Speaker of the House of Commons is reported to be supportive of the move.

This is not persecution, because Christians aren’t being stopped from doing anything. This is entirely what the equalities minsiter should be doing. This is letting other people also use a room, dressed up in an Argument From Tradition (invalid) and a snide nod at John Bercow MP, who famously resigned the Tory front bench due to his support for homosexual adoption rights.

Now, there are many questions that we need to ask. If this means the removal of Christian symbols from the chapel to accommodate all faiths and even humanist ceremonies this would amount to changing the chapel fundamentally, even to banishing the Christian faith from the seat of political power. This would have implications for Her Majesty, the Queen, and could place her in a very difficult position as the chapel is a Royal Peculiar under her direct patronage.

 The Christian faith isn’t being banished because Christians can still worship there. Moreover, there are loads of Christian rituals, art, symbology and impedimenta festooning the Palace of Westminster.
Of course, I would like all of them removed, and still would not say that was persecuting Christianity so much as advancing the cleavage between religion and state.
It doesn’t really place HM in a difficult situation since she can do nothing about it. She has plenty of other churches to preside over. Ones that aren’t in Parliament.

As David Cameron knows, I am very suspicious that behind the plans to change the nature of marriage, which come before the House of Lords soon, there lurks an aggressive secularist and relativist approach towards an institution that has glued society together for time immemorial.

Yes. Quite. We dirty secularists see all faiths as having equal validity as regards the law, so do not want one faith given undue precedence. That is not persecution.

I’d like to discuss the ‘glued society…immemorial’ claim but it’s so wide-reaching and subjective that there isn’t much point.

By dividing marriage into religious and civil the Government threatens the church and state link which they purport to support. But they also threaten to empty marriage of its fundamental religious and civic meaning as an institution orientated towards the upbringing of children.

1.)    There is no conclusive proof that one man and one woman raise children any better than homosexual or group arrangements. History is littered with examples of the latter, where the children did not all grow up damaged.

2.)    Since 1688 the justification of Parliamentary Supremacy has been the support of the population through elections, not God. Whether the Tories support a church-state link or not, this ‘persecution’ isn’t a problem.

3.)    Religious meaning is typically understood as only felt by believers in that religion. Since the Bill currently makes it impossible for the C of E to allow gay marriage, then Carey’s ex-flock are not threatened by this ‘emptiness’, any more than they are by the manifold number of things other faiths or non-faiths do with which the C of E disagrees. He might as well rail against circumcision for emptying the foreskin of its fundamental role as part of the body that is created in God’s image and therefore sacred (an argument usually applied against abortion.)

If this is not enough, the legislation fails to provide any protection for religious believers in employment who cannot subscribe to the new meaning of marriage. There will be no exemptions for believers who are registrars. They can expect to be sacked if they cannot, in all conscience, support same-sex marriage.

It’s impossible to comment on this until the law has been passed and there has been a test case. As I understand it, registrars effectively work on a freelance basis so could avoid this?
If not, I’m afraid that’s just how the law works. Registrar A would be like Jewish Foodtaster B, who found himself in a pickle when his employer wanted him to try the salted pork. If religious convictions get in the way of doing your job, it’s a pretty bad job. Like pacifists in the army.

Strong legal opinion also suggests that Christian teachers, who are required to teach about marriage, may face disciplinary action if they cannot express agreement with the new politically-correct orthodoxy.

I’m not sure where this is coming from. Surely it won’t be hard for a Christian RS teacher to admit the fact that the law will recognise homosexual marriage, that Religious groups A-F agree and perform ceremonies while religious groups G-Z do not and do not? If a teacher point-blank refuses to teach what the current law of the land is, see the discussion immediately above.

The danger I believe that the Government is courting with its approach both to marriage and religious freedom, is the alienation of a large minority of people who only a few years ago would have been considered pillars of society.

Today’s ComRes poll suggests that more than three-quarters of Christians believe that the Government is not listening. More than half of Christians who backed the Conservatives in 2010 say they will ‘definitely not’ vote for the party in 2015.

This looks decidedly like Carey is just giving DC election advice. I’d quite like him out (for reasons unrelated) so this all seems fine to me.

On a wider principle, I’m rather happy the Coalition government is not legislating purely on the whims of the Christian population. That would be jolly daunting.

This continues the breakdown in trust between politicians and the people they serve.

Among these people are very many volunteers, school governors and public servants. In their churches they provide soup kitchens and advice centres, and many other valuable initiatives. They are the ‘big society’ which David Cameron was advocating until recently.

Good for them. Wholly unrelated.

The Government risks entrenching a very damaging division in British society by driving law-abiding Christians into the ranks of the malcontents and alienated – of whom there are already far too many.

I do hope that Christians are not alienated by this move. I hope they feel alienated by all the other Tory policies which are ill-guided and damaging to the poor, to children, to the disabled, to the elderly, to future generations, ad nauseum.

*Scotland and Northern Ireland aren’t included in the Census, although I imagine they would bump it up a little.

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