Published:

108 comments


Martin_parsons This is the second of a five part series looking at the
Conservative Party's relationship with churchgoers after thirteen years
of Labour government.
Dr Martin Parsons is a regular contributor to CentreRight.

In part 1 we saw how many practising
Christians had begun to move away from Labour in the 2-3 years prior to
the election largely as a result of Labour’s sustained attack on
freedom of religion.

Now just for a minute imagine yourself
to be a committed Christian. You have just seen the Labour government
pass a law that required Catholic adoption agencies to act in a way
that is completely contrary to the teaching of the Bible and the
historic teaching of the Christian faith for the last 2,000 years. If
this has now happened to a Christian organisation, what will happen
next…will this sort of legislation be enforced not only on Christian
organisations but also the church itself…? That is why Labour’s attack
on freedom of religion was THE issue of the election for a great many
practising Christians.

In fact, the Labour government got very
close to actually telling the Church which parts of the Bible’s
teaching it could not preach, but were rebuffed as a result of
amendments put down in the Lords by Conservative peers:

Firstly, Labour’s 2008 Criminal Justice
and Immigration Act was so framed that it could have led to the
prosecution of any Christian preachers who made a statement that a gay
person might be offended at, It was only an amendment successfully
proposed by former Conservative Home Secretary Lord Waddington that
prevented this. The amendment was important as a number of Christians
including OAPs, Christian ministers and a bishop have been subjected to
‘intimidating’ police questioning and even arrestas
a result of complaints made by gay rights activists who disagreed with
their beliefs. In each case it was evident from the outset that no
actual ‘crime’ had been committed. However, even before the amended
bill had received the royal assent, the Labour government tried to
repeal the Waddington ‘free speech amendment’ by using the 2009
Coroners and Criminal Justice bill, which ironically it sought to push
through the Commons only hours after Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith
had gone on the Today programme to defend freedom of speech for Islamic extremists…This was despite the Wadington amendment having been described by former chief constable and chief inspector of constabulary Lord Dear as
“essential” if police officers were to enforce the Government’s
‘homophobic hatred’ law with “good judgment and a light touch”.

Secondly, Labour’s recent Equality bill contained a clause that had it not been amended by three Conservative peers acting
with the support of the Conservative whips, would have removed the
right of churches to appoint people who adhere to the teachings of the
Christian faith. The proposed ‘anti discrimination’ legislation was the
equivalent for the church and Christian organisations of legally
requiring the Conservative Party not to discriminate against someone
with socialist views when selecting parliamentary candidates, only it
was not pragmatic political beliefs that were at stake, but deeply held
religious beliefs about morality. It amounted to a degree of government
interference in the church that would seriously have compromised
freedom of religion in Britain. Significantly Conservative peers voted
unanimously for the amendment, but almost all Labour and Lib-Dem peers
voted against it.

Astonishingly for Christians, far from
recognising the deep inroads that it was making to historic British
values of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, the Labour
bandwagon simply steamrollered ahead with a manifesto promise to
reintroduce its attempt to repeal the Waddington amendment, an action
which would have effectively criminalised any ethical criticism of gay
sex acts. Labour somehow lost the plot that in a free society we defend
people – not ideas. That means we should defend gay people from
mistreatment, rather than using the criminal law to defend the belief
of social liberalism that gay sex acts are morally ‘good’. If you do
the latter you actually victimise another group of people – those who
disagree with that belief.

This distinction between protecting
people – which is the proper function of the criminal law – and
protecting particular beliefs (in this case that gay sex acts are
morally ‘good’) is absolutely central to what it means to be a free
society. However, this is a distinction that Labour deliberately
ignored. It is also a distinction that is absolutely central to the
perception among a very large number of practising Christians that they
are increasingly being subject to intolerance, discrimination,
marginalisation and exclusion from public life. What Christians feel so
concerned about is not at all the right of gay people to practise their
own sexual ethics, it is a concerted attempt to ban Christians from
stating and acting on the basis of their beliefs on sexual ethics and
to exclude them from public life if they do so.

In this context it needs to be clearly
stated that ‘disagreement’ and ‘intolerance’ are not the same thing. In
fact the very concept of ‘tolerance’ implies disagreement – you only
‘tolerate’ someone when you disagree with them. Disagreement about an
ethical issue – whether it is the morality of abortion, gay sex acts or
anything else does not make either group ‘intolerant’. In fact, it is
this ‘tolerance of disagreement’ that is fundamental to the functioning
of a free democratic society, where we decide contentious issues by
open debate. ‘Intolerance’ however, is when one party seeks to prevent
people they disagree with from expressing or acting upon their opinions
and beliefs or excludes them from public life if they hold such
beliefs.

The growing exclusion of conservative
Christians (principally, though not exclusively around 4 million or so
Evangelicals and Catholics) from certain areas of the public services
and public life is a very regressive step in terms of Britain’s proud
history of tolerance and freedom of religion. It is sobering to compare
the impact of the last Labour government’s ‘equality’ laws with the
1673 Tests Act, which excluded anyone who did not hold to a particular
belief system (Anglicanism) from holding public office, such as being a
magistrate. It was the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828
and the passing of the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act by Wellington’s
Tory government that really started to create genuine religious freedom
in Britain. Whilst the belief system one is now required to assent to
is a secular liberal pluralist worldview, the comparison, even to some
degree, with the situation faced by Non Conformists and Catholics
before the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts is one that is, and
should be, profoundly uncomfortable for any democratic politician.

A month before the general election the BBC broadcast a documentary entitled ‘Are Christians being persecuted in Britain’.
The issue it addressed was actually discrimination against Christians
rather than persecution. But the fact that even the liberal minded BBC
addressed this shows how important an issue it was in the months
leading up to the general election.

As someone who has been privileged to
work with the persecuted church overseas, I do not believe that
‘persecution’ is the correct word to describe such changes in the law.
However, in many contexts overseas Christian minorities are not so much
persecuted as subject to various degrees of discrimination. What is
most disconcerting about the manner in which that last Labour
government brought in new laws to our own country is that it clearly
has created a degree of discrimination against Christians in certain
parts of the public sector. It was also significantly responsible for a
much more disturbing rise in intolerance towards Christians and
historic Christian beliefs on issues such as sexual ethics, so that as Melancthon recently observed on Centre Right anyone
who voices an orthodox Christian view of sexual ethics is likely to be
treated as a social pariah and labelled quite wrongly ‘homophobic’.

Some academics have used the term
'Christianophobia' or 'Christophobia' to label this growing intolerance
of Christian beliefs and incidents of discrimination against
Christians. Personally, I dislike the term as it sounds far too
politically correct, and in reality Christians are more victims of
political correctness than one of its beneficiary groups. However,
whether or not one gives it a name, it is undeniable that there has
been not simply disagreement with, but a growing intolerance of
Christian beliefs in Britain since Labour came to power in 1997. It is
also true to say that the opposition that did come to this attack on
freedom of religion was not from the Liberal Democrats who
wholeheartedly supported the Labour government on this – but from
Conservatives, particularly in the Hose of Lords.

> It was for these reasons that there was
a real potential for the Conservative Party to have won a significant
number of practising Christians who had not voted for us in the
previous election, a subject we will examine in part 3.

108 comments for: Martin Parsons: Conservative response to Labour’s attack on Christian liberties

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.