Watching Straws

Straws in the wind. None of them large in itself, but taken together, they show quite clearly the direction of the wind, and that direction is very clearly against public expression of religious, especially Christian, convictions.

Nurse Caroline Petrie asks a patient if she would like the nurse to pray with her. The patient is not offended, but the offer is reported and the nurse suspended from duty. A Christian foster carer is struck off the fostering register because a Muslim girl in her late teens, who had been placed with the carer, sought Christian baptism. Although there was no suggestion of coercion by the carer, council officials argued that she had failed in her duty to preserve the girl’s religion and should in fact have used her influence to prevent the baptism. A Christian Care Home for the elderly in Brighton has thousands of pounds of funding withdrawn by the local council because of its religiously-based objections to homosexuality. A five-year-old girl from Devon is reprimanded by her teacher for talking about Jesus in class and her mother, a part-time receptionist at the school, is being investigated by the school governors because she e-mailed friends at church to ask them to pray about the situation, and she could face dismissal. Draft guidance produced by the General Teaching Council for England would require Christian teachers to ‘proactively combat discrimination’ and ‘value diversity’ based on religious belief and sexual orientation.

We could fill this article with examples, but enough have been cited to support the recent claim of former Prime Minister Tony Blair that Christians are being sidelined in an age of ‘aggressive secularism’ and his criticism of ‘ludicrous decisions’ which have seen Christians punished for expressing their beliefs. Whilst many will respond with wry smiles, given Blair’s actions while in power and his reluctance to express his own beliefs before retirement, he is accurate in his comments. Although a BBC poll has shown that 62% of the 1000 Britons surveyed think that ‘religion has an important part to play in public life’ and 63% think that laws ‘should respect and be influenced by UK religious values’, it is clear that in the public square religious values, particularly Christian ones, are often unwelcome. Tolerance of diversity is the dominant value, before which all else must give way. Although the poll showed that nine out of ten Muslims and 100% of Hindus supported a strong role in public life for the religious values characteristic of the UK, political correctness dictates otherwise.

We can be thankful that a number of the situations already mentioned have been settled satisfactorily, although not all. The difficulties should not be exaggerated, and at times Christians provoke controversy unnecessarily. Nevertheless when all qualifications have been stated and allowances made, there is no doubt that Christian beliefs and values are increasingly being marginalized in the public square. The idea that Christian teaching should be allowed to shape public policy or, indeed, show its face outside the homes of its adherents or the walls of Churches, is just not acceptable, at least to the opinion-formers and policy makers. In fact, what is said within the walls of Churches is scarcely sacrosanct.

All is not yet lost. There is still a weight of opinion at the popular level supporting the public expression of Christian values. A number of organisations are working diligently to hold the line, if not turn back the tide. How long that will continue to be the case, we cannot tell. The Lord could of course act in grace and power at any time to transform the character of the nation. In the 150th anniversary year of a great revival, we can rule nothing out. If, however, it is not the Lord’s will to work in that way, the fluttering straws tell us that the wind will be in our faces in days to come.

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