Addressing 'contempt' for Christianity

By Jonathan Bartley
March 29, 2010

George Pitcher, at the Telegraph newspaper, today takes up the point we made yesterday about the exaggeration of the Church of England bishops who claim that "there have been numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised society". (An allegation also repeated as ‘fact’ with no substantiation at all by Jonathan Wynne Jones in the Sunday Telegraph).

This is what Pitcher says in response:

“Really? Numerous dismissals? I don't buy that. A handful of cases of alleged injustice, maybe. Actually, I don't think the bishops even buy their own case. The tell-tale sign comes towards the end of their letter when they write that "any policy that regards the cross as 'just an item of jewellery' is deeply disturbing". I suspect what they suspect: that Nurse Chaplin is the victim of a restriction on the wearing of jewellery, not of religious discrimination.”

So why is it then that some Christians are being treated with contempt?

This is where I think Pitcher doesn't develop his argument logically. He goes on to lay the blame at the door at the usual suspects: PC councils, a few militant secularists and politicians who don’t take religion seriously. If only Christianity took centre stage again, then we wouldn't have this problem he says. Pitcher does not, like many in the church, recognise the reality of post-Christendom where the church must get used to a new place at the margins rather than the centre of culture. Nor does he see that the church's response to post-Christendom - to try to cling onto special privilege and exemptions, and even exaggerate situations in its own interests - is part of the problem, not the solution.

(Less militant) atheists, humanists, agnostics, councils, politicians and the rest of the 95 per cent of the country who don’t attend churches regularly, might actually have noted the double standards in the pleading against alleged workplace discrimination.

Religious organisations - including one third of church primary schools – can, and do, legally discriminate in employment against those who don’t share their faith. They have in fact, fought hard to win, maintain and extend such rights.

Others may also take exception to bishops who, if Pitcher is right, publicly exaggerate claims about ‘discrimination’, or mount cases based on ideas that they don’t actually buy into.

These examples alone surely give a clue to why some might have a degree of ‘contempt’ for Christianity right now.

But there is another way that Christians can act, one more suited both to the Gospel, and the post-Christendom context. I was doing Radio 5 Live last night with Stephen Nolan on this subject, when a Christian called the programme. He was theologically conservative, and also a hotelier who routinely had civil partnerships taking place in his hotel. Whilst he said he disagreed with them – he felt that his faith called him to not just toleration, but a loving and generous response in public life. How he said, could he expect others to respect his beliefs, if he wasn’t generous toward the beliefs of others?

That’s the kind of Christian who won’t be treated with contempt (except perhaps by some other Christians).

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