Are we being marginalised?
Are Christians being marginalised in the UK? That’s the question that MPs and Peers asked in November as they heard evidence from church groups and Christian campaign organisations.
The Clearing the Ground inquiry, run by the All-Party Group Christians in Parliament, held three hearings to delve into the issue and seek to discover if Christians have been affected by changes to the law and the actions of government and the courts.
Chair of the inquiry Gary Streeter MP explains why it’s happening: “The Christian life was never meant to be a walk in the park. However, in the last couple of years a series of high profile cases have sparked concern among Christians that they are marginalised or even being persecuted for their beliefs.”
The inquiry also received written submissions from nearly 50 expert groups and individuals setting out concerns about the way that Christians are impacted by the law. Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, commented on the evidence: “There’s obviously a lot of fear and confusion about how the law treats religious belief and activity, and many Christians think it’s becoming more difficult to live an authentically Christian life. Indeed, our Evangelical Alliance survey from 2010 confirmed that 77 per cent of Christians felt this way.”
Fiona Bruce MP suggested why this inquiry was such a vital step. “Christians across the country are becoming increasingly concerned about expressing biblically-based views, both within and outside the workplace,” she says. “This inquiry is a much needed endeavour on the part of Parliamentarians to engage with, listen to, and understand those concerns, and their breadth and impact, and to promote appropriate action to address them.”
Gary Streeter went on to say: “We want to expose the gap between perception and reality, and help to blow away the fog and fear that currently exists for many Christians. We want to dispel any myths that have grown up but also identify problems.”
The inquiry heard from groups including the Alliance and Premier Christian Radio. Giving evidence for the Alliance head of public affairs Don Horrocks, said: “There is a chilling effect that is happening right through society, with lots of people afraid about what they can and can’t say. Very often Christians will not say and do things that are perfectly lawful. For example teachers who think that they cannot tell their pupils that they are Christians, when the truth is that they are quite free to tell their students this.” As well as giving evidence, the Alliance is providing administrative support to the Clearing the Ground inquiry.
Malcolm Brown, speaking for the Church of England, said: “We have a dominant understanding of equality as identical treatment, but there is a much richer understanding that’s about enabling diversity to flourish. When you treat equality as meaning that everything has to be the same so that nobody who is different is excluded, then you are reduced to something even lower than a lowest common denominator. You can say nothing in general about society at all.
“So we have real difficulty about talking about what we believe to be the common good in a culture which only has the individual good as a building block.”
Following the evidence sessions Christians in Parliament is producing a report which will be published in February. The purpose of the report is to help Christians know what the law really says, and what has perhaps crept into popular opinion but is not a completely accurate account.
Gary Streeter said: “We won’t shy away if necessary from making recommendations to nudge the law into the right position. We cannot sit back and let the Christian values which we hold dear to be eroded by often tiny minority groups clambering for their own rights at the expense of a common good.
“We’re looking for a truly Christian vision for a truly free public square, one that upholds people’s right to express their views with civility, however contrary or uncomfortable, without fear of public humiliation or prosecution.”
One of the key themes identified by the inquiry was the lack of religious literacy across all layers of government and the courts. As such, it is expected that the report will make recommendations for how the government can address this problem. The aim of Clearing the Ground is to encourage churches and Christians to be more confidently Christian in their everyday lives, and it will call on the government to make changes that will facilitate this rather than impede it.