Alan Judd advises the Government on the vetting of free schools. In an article for the Daily Telegraph – in part, a response to a scare story about creationism in the class room – he makes it clear that applying for free school status is an extremely demanding process:
- "One applicant I spoke to described how his group fell apart through exhaustion after struggling nine-tenths of the way through the bureaucratic thicket, only to find that the premises they thought they’d got were abruptly sold off by an ideologically hostile local authority. Such antipathy from elements of the educational establishment, particularly the unions, won’t go away, as control is part of their raison d’etre and any freedoms that threaten it – no matter how beneficial to the children they’re supposed to be educating – will be opposed."
On the particular issue of faith schools, he makes another good point:
- "To ban believers from setting up free schools would be to exclude a large number of able, well-meaning and experienced people who can do much to raise levels generally. The trouble is, as always, when it’s taken to extremes, whether it’s evangelical Christians, totalitarian Muslims or segregationist Jews."
Well, quite. I’m sure that we can all agree – wait a second, what was that about evangelical Christians!? Just look at the context: in a list of religions gone wrong, the adjective ‘evangelical’ is used in same way as ‘totalitarian’ and ‘segregationist’ i.e. to indicate extremism. While there is something undoubtedly extreme about totalitarian or segregationist variants of any belief system, evangelical Christianity is represented in this country by mainstream denominations likes the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and large parts of the Church of England.
In an unpublished letter to the Telegraph (but published on the Cranmer blog), Steve Clifford of the Evangelical Alliance protests:
- "It is wrong and worrying that a senior government advisor brands evangelical Christians as extremist… There are approximately 2 million evangelical Christians in the UK, the fastest growing part of the church worldwide. They take their faith seriously, but that does not make them extremist. To suggest it does demonstrates a woeful lack of religious understanding at the heart of government."
It is possible that Alan Judd meant ‘evangelical’ in some non-specific colloquial sense rather than to identify a major branch of the Christian faith, but shouldn’t a government advisor on faith-related matters should choose his terms more carefully?
If a major branch of any other religion had been equated with extremism – whether inadvertently or otherwise – there would have been no end of fuss. However, when it comes to Christians – and, in particular, evangelical Christians – rather less care and attention is paid.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the media. When, for instance, did you last see an evangelical Christian portrayed sympathetically in a TV drama – rather than as a self-regarding ass / horrendous bigot / murdering lunatic?
Perhaps the BBC’s diversity unit could look into the matter?