Crying 'discrimination' harms churches message

London, UK - Monday 19 March 2007: The UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia has said that “retreating into a persecution mentality” is unhelpful – and harms the churches’ message. The comment came in response to a new BBC survey which shows that up to a third of UK Christians feel they are discriminated against in public life because of their faith.

Ekklesia’s Jonathan Bartley, whose 2006 book Faith and Politics After Christendom first warned of a “negative” response among sections of the church to their gradual loss of official status, commented: “Some Christians do feel discriminated against, but Christians are also privileged – with 26 bishops in the house of Lords, an established church, tax breaks and blasphemy laws protecting them, for example.”

He added: “Others will point out that Christians discriminate themselves. Many state-funded schools run by churches are selecting on the basis of people's faith. Churches have claimed opt-outs from equalities legislation. And their treatment of lesbian and gay people is seen as bigoted by many, inside and outside the churches.”

Bartley said that in a global context where minorities were under attack, and in the UK where some Muslims and Jews in the UK faced attacks and desecration of their cemeteries, talk of “persecution” by some Christian groups was inappropriate.

He appeared on BBC1’s Heaven and Earth Show (18 March 2007), which commissioned the survey.

“The reason a sizable minority of Christians, especially more conservative ones, are feeling ‘got at’ is because the historic privilege and influence of the churches is being eroded in the public sphere” added Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

“But this demonstrates how easy it has been, during the era of Christendom, for Christians to mistake their own power for the gospel message – which involves Jesus embodying God’s special concern for those at the margins, not demanding special treatment for religion,” he said.

Ekklesia argues that loss of automatic privileges, the challenges of pluralism in public life, and the criticism churches face over discrimination in schools and services is “a historic opportunity for them to recover a vision of the Christian message as rooted in justice and equality. Self-interest and trying to grab power back is an unhelpful response – a counter-witness, even.”

The think-tank has also warned about the dangers of "the politics of competitive grievance", where Christians, secularists, Muslims and others try to out-do each other with claims of discrimination, rather than finding positive ways of working together.

Additional information for editors:

1. Ekklesia was founded in 2002 and has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential British think-tanks. It promotes transformative theological ideas in public life and explores the role of religion in society. It is not formally linked to any Christian body or denomination, but draws on a wide range of expertise.

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