Five questions for assessing Nicky Campbell’s documentary on ‘persecution’ of UK Christians

By Jonathan Bartley
April 1, 2010

As reported by the Telegraph yesterday, there will be a late night programme exploring alleged ‘persecution’ of Christians in the UK, on Easter Day.

It comes as the Archbishop of Canterbury tells his bishops to ‘chill out’ about it.

The BBC have also commissioned a ComRes poll which finds that 44 per cent of people believe Britain is becoming less tolerant of religion. What hasn’t been reported by the Telegraph, is that the same poll found 39 per cent feel Britain is becoming more tolerant. But the question is pretty speculative.

More in depth studies around the same time by the same polling organisation, paint a different picture. When the question was put: "Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement?" (sic) "'Religious freedoms have been restricted in Britain over the past 10 years'" the survey found that almost double the number (59 per cent) disagreed, as opposed to agreed, with the statement.

Amongst Christians the disagreement was even slightly higher (60 per cent).

I chatted to Nicky Campbell about the documentary after doing BBC1s Big Questions a couple of weeks ago. He is a history graduate and it sounds as if it will come from a historical perspective, with the background of what happened in France/ Russia when religion was removed from public life. I may be wrong as he wasn't giving much away! But I don’t think this is the best backdrop from which to start. It doesn’t really address the context of post-Christendom – which is neither secularisation, nor post-Christian - but which is neverthleless crucial to understanding what is going on.

We have been looking at these issues since 2004. We produced a book which analysed the reasons and predicted the growing trend in 2006. We also did a report in the same year on one set of situations in universities that was welcomed by the Government. We have spoken to many of the actors involved in these cases on all sides, as well as observing what has been going on behind the scenes.

There are five crucial sets of questions that the documentary should address if it wants to make sense of what is going on.

1. Will the claims of ‘persecution’ be properly scrutinised? There has been so much misinformation about what local councils, hospitals, schools and other bodies have been doing/saying. The claims make great headlines, but upon further scrutiny – including talking to the bodies involved - the claims often have little substance. There are certainly disagreements, but they are often of a different nature to the way they are being presented. Will the documentary interview the public bodies involved and get the story from their perspective? (It is sometimes the case that the people involved in the bodies are themselves Christians).

2. Will there be a proper account of why some Christians feel marginalised? Specifically, will the context of post-Christendom be taken into account? The churches have had centuries of special privilege, with Christianity being a dominant narrative. Religion is relocating and finding a new place in society. This is making many Christians feel unsettled and making others fearful. This is being fuelled by many of the reports in the press and media.

3. Will the documentary scrutinise the work of pressure groups like the Lawyer’s Christian Fellowship, Christian Concern for our Nation and the Christian Institute, who have been feeding the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph with stories, sometimes with dire consequences? Will there be examination of their ideology and what is driving their efforts, which we have suggested involves a radicalisation as a response to post-Christendom? Will the links to what is going on in the US also be made?

4. Will the documentary look at mediation efforts to sort out the disputes? What has often been happening is that positions quickly become entrenched and there is little chance of amicable resolution following misunderstandings or mistakes. This is often because pressure groups get involved and raise the stakes, giving stories to the media. I know for a fact that the documentary makers spoke to a top QC who is not just an evangelical Christian, but one of the most experienced commercial mediators in the country.

5. Will the documentary primarily frame the debates as a simplistic conflict of rights, or accept that the situation is far more complex? Will it bring in different Christian perspectives which do not see this primarily as about one person trumping another?

When the programme is broadcast we’ll revisit these questions and see how is measures up.

Are Christians Being Persecuted? is on BBC One at 10.50pm on Easter Sunday

Further reading:

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