Persecution? Or simply losing the argument?

Retired Archbishop George Carey has said that Christians who oppose marriage equality are being persecuted. Which raises the question, when is persecution persecution and when us it that sinking feeling that accompanies losing the argument?

The Telegraph reports Lord Carey’s view:

Lord Carey, who was archbishop from 1991 to 2002, warns of a “drive to remove Judaeo-Christian values from the public square”. Courts in Britain have “consistently applied equality law to discriminate against Christians”.

They show a “crude” misunderstanding of the faith by treating some believers as “bigots”. He writes: “In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by State bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong.

“It affects the moral and ethical compass of the United Kingdom. Christians are excluded from many sectors of employment simply because of their beliefs; beliefs which are not contrary to the public good.”

He outlines a string of cases in which he argues that British judges have used a strict reading of equality law to strip the legally established right to freedom of religion of “any substantive effect”.

“It is now Christians who are persecuted; often sought out and framed by homosexual activists,” he says. “Christians are driven underground. There appears to be a clear animus to the Christian faith and to Judaeo-Christian values. Clearly the courts of the United Kingdom require guidance.”

Andrew Brown responds in the Church Times (behind their paywall):

His complaint has nothing to do with the enforcement of an orthodoxy. It is a wail that his particular orthodoxy is no longer the one enforced; for Lord Carey believes in order and hierarchy. His policy as Archbishop was to find out where power lay, and settle with it. Hence his appeasement of the worst instincts on display at the Lambeth Conference in 1998. Hence his tone of outrage now that the Government is ignoring his opinions: David Cameron “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.

“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.”

Well, yes. That is a direct consequence of the Carey-esque attempt to ensure that civil partnerships were entirely distinct from real marriages. It was the Carey/Nazir-Ali line that everyone would have to choose between Christianity and gay marriage. Very well. The country has clearly chosen. Marriage is no longer primarily a Christian institution. This applies far more and far more often to straight partnerships than to gay ones.

Lord Carey writes: “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.”

But people have been marrying in register offices for more than a century. The idea that marriage must be about children is probably still widely held – but what matters is the commitment, not the gender of the committed parents.

Simple Massing Priest writes:

I’m always a little leery of commenting on polls based on superficial media stories, but it strikes me the loss of the Church’s credibility in England (and elsewhere) is related to a quite credible perception that the Church is far more interested in institutional preservation and with recovering lost privilege than she is concerned with proclaiming good news about anything or about speaking in a way that is credibly prophetic.

The perception, though credible, isn’t entirely accurate. Unfortunately for Christianity, the majority of mainstream media reporters are more or less religiously illiterate. Add to that the desire for conflict to sell papers, and you have an inbuilt tendency for the media to pass on thoughtful religious voices in favour of hacks and cranks. As a result, the self-identified Christian voices that get the ink are all too often the least credible and the most obnoxious. Thus it isn’t a negative perception foisted upon us by some imagined secularist conspiracy. We do it to ourselves.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey’s lunatic screed over the past weekend is a prime example. In the face of major changes to the welfare state with as yet unknown effects on the poor (of whom scripture says much), Lord Carey chooses to ignore that and instead offer up a deluded dystopia of pretendy persecution. He advances the fantasy that the loss of unearned and unmerited privilege is the same as being killed for what you believe. In a country where the head of state must belong to his religious body, where 26 legislative seats are set aside for senior members of his religious body and where the past leaders of his religious body (himself included) are always offered a legislative sinecure on retirement, where simply being a retired Archbishop pretty much guarantees you front page coverage in all the major media for your every pronouncement, no matter how inane, to talk of persecution is both idiotic and an affront to those Christians who face real persecution elsewhere.

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