By Lord Carey

Screen shot 2013-04-05 at 06.39.59Lord
Bates's criticism on this site
of my recent article in the Daily Mail is well worth addressing
because we both value frank exchanges of views – perhaps one of the greatest
benefits of living in a democracy.

Let me
begin by looking at the word ‘persecution’ which is a loaded one I prefer not
to use about the plight of Christians in the UK. In my many travels to
countries such as Sudan, Nigeria and Pakistan I have interceded on behalf of
Christians who have faced punishment and death for one crime only – that of
being a follower of Jesus Christ. That is persecution.

type of experience increasingly facing Christians in the UK involves much less
dramatic encounters with the authorities but in some cases the discrimination
or marginalization experienced is both heartfelt and unjust. In only a few
years we have moved into a situation where Roman Catholic adoption agencies
have been forced to close down, where public servants have been disciplined for
expressing Christian beliefs, or been sacked for wearing the cross.

few people in public life have bothered to stand up for these people. Is it any
wonder then that according to the recent ComRes poll an increasing number of
Christians believe they are experiencing something akin to ‘persecution’?

I will
continue to support people facing hardship because of their Christian beliefs.
This is because I believe that the creation of a hierarchy of rights in which
the manifestation of religious belief is often misunderstood or consigned to
the bottom of the heap, is an unnecessary trajectory for a society which has
always prided itself on its tolerance.

Bates criticized my intervention for daring to highlight the disparity between the government’s warm words about
the contribution of the Christian faith and the actual hostile effects of
policy on Christians. I wish
he’d read my article more thoroughly. He makes an issue of the fact that that I have shown ‘precious
little grace’ in quoting from a speech made during a ‘private reception’ with
Christian leaders. In fact, I relied on the transcript of the Prime Minister’s
supposedly ‘private’ remarks on the Downing Street website

Bates suggests that I’m accusing the government of ‘Herod-like persecution’.
 Not at all. I’m suggesting that the coalition is following a trajectory
set by previous governments which in spite of their warm words, they have done
nothing to arrest. Take the support of the Prime Minister for the right of
Christians to wear the cross, I have never heard a satisfactory explanation of
why lawyers employed by thecoalition argued against this right in the European
Court of Human Rights? I am surely not alone in wanting to see some
correspondence between a government’s words and actions?

He does
not address my concern that legislation to redefine marriage will narrow the
space for freedom of conscience even further. The need for exemptions, for
example, for registrars, whose terms and conditions of employment will be
changed by the legislation, have been cavalierly dismissed by government
ministers. He cites ministerial reassurances against differing legal opinions
on whether teachers will be compelled to act against their conscience. I’m sure
he doesn’t subscribe to the doctrine of the infallibility of ministers
especially when faced by human rights challenges in the courts.

He misrepresents
my point about the campaign to turn the Parliamentary chapel into a multi-faith
prayer room. The very fact that this proposal by a Labour MP could even be
entertained seriously by a coalition minister and the Speaker of the House
speaks of a kneejerk secularism which deserves to be loudly questioned.

The Government rightly bristles when critics allege that legislating for same sex
marriage is a distraction from their deficit-reduction strategy. Governments,
they claim, can do more than one thing. Lord Bates should therefore understand
that a considerable part of my own focus both before and after retirement has
been on encouraging churches to prioritise global relief and development. He
accuses me of ‘private prejudice’ in making no mention of the government
achievements in the overseas aid budget. Let me put the record straight. I
welcome the government’s achievement on this front. In 1998, with the then
President of the World Bank I co-founded the World Faiths Development Dialogue
which has had the support of successive British governments. I am Vice
President of the relief agency, Tear Fund, an important charity very dear to my

I do agree with Lord Bates contention that the churches have often been seen as
‘out-of-touch’ and obsessed with their own internal concerns.  There is a
fine line between a church ‘in touch’ and one which has capitulated to values
which contradict the Gospel. I welcome debates among Christians and others
about where that line falls. That is a dialogue I hope to continue with Lord
Bates. Let me reiterate what I said at the beginning of my Mail
article. I have a high regard for the Prime Minister. He deserves support on
many fronts. Criticism of one aspect of his policy does not detract from that.
I believe the Coalition has made a huge mistake with its plans to redefine
marriage and I will continue to press this message home.