An Anglican bishop has rejected claims by some lobby groups and activists that Christians in Britain are being persecuted for their beliefs.
In a short television broadcast in the 4thought.tv/ series on Channel 4, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, who is the Bishop of Croydon, a suffragan appointment in the Diocese of Southwark, said that, in fact "we're everywhere" and urged church people not to allow themselves to be fitted into a "hierarchy of victimhood".
Acknowledging the genuine and terrible persecutions in Christian history and affecting minorities around the world today, the bishop denied that the choices facing Christians in modern plural Britain were in any way comparable.
Even where there may be disagreement or conflict over symbols, values and beliefs "there is a choice" about what to say and how to act, he said.
The comments come as the pressure-group 'Christian Concern' (formerly Christian Concern for Our Nation) launches a 'Not Ashamed Day' on 1 December, urging those who share their understanding of the Christian message to assert themselves in public life by "speaking up for the Christian foundation of our society."
Thousands have signed Christian Concern''s 'Declaration', and former church leaders like Lord Carey and Bishop Michael Nazir Ali have given support. But most church leaders and many more Christians are choosing not to get involved in the 'national initiative'.
On Twitter, the cause had fewer than 200 'followers' in the run up to the midday launch, and many responses have been less than enthusiastic.
One repondent posted: "I'm not ashamed of Jesus Christ, but I am ashamed of the moral superiority of many of his followers", and "I'm not ashamed of Jesus Christ, but I am ashamed of the violence and bigotry carried out in his name".
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which has been monitoring claims about unfair treatment of Christians in Britain, and will be publishing a report about it shortly, commented: "While some noisy lobby groups and former church leaders are willing to accommodate to exaggerated or false claims about the status of Christians in Britain, many thousands of others (the majority, in fact) are not.
"For example, this week, the Methodist Church in Britain is rightfully turning our attention towards the 300 million Dalits (victims of caste-based discrimination) across the world."
He continued: "Using language that mixes up the inconveniences and challenges of living in a mixed society with the terror of living in a disintegrating or dictatorial one is something those involved in spreading the 'British Christians are persecuted' meme should most definitely be ashamed of."
"We need to be theologically clear amidst the siren voices of alarm," said Barrow. "That Christians do not rule others in the way they once did, does not amount to 'persecution'. Instead, it is an invitation to rediscover patterns of church life in a plural society which show the heart of the Christian message to be about embracing others, not isolating ourselves; multiplying hope, not spreading fear; developing peaceableness, not resorting to aggression; and advancing compassion, rather than retreating into defensiveness."
Bishop Nick Baines' broadcast, 'Are Christians the new persecuted?', can be watched here: http://www.4thought.tv/4thoughts/0150-Bishop-Nick-Baines-Are-Christians-...
Also on Ekklesia:
'Shameful claims and alternative Christian living', by Simon Barrow - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13679
'Why Christians should be ashamed on World AIDS Day', by Jonathan Bartley - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13668
'Humanists and Christians criticise "Not Ashamed" campaign' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13681
'The Westminster Declaration: a considered critique', by Savitri Hensman - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12060
'A level playing-field for British Christians', by Symon Hill - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12853