THE General Synod has called on
Christians to "manifest" their faith in "public life"; but it
declined a request to embody this precept in a new addition to
Moving his private member's motion,
which was the basis of the debate on Sunday evening,
the Revd Stephen Trott
(Peterborough) said that it would be "nonsense, as things currently
stand, to describe the situation of the Church in England as being
one of persecution".
Nevertheless, "profound changes" had
taken place in the governance of the country, which had resulted in
"very determined attempts" to "drive the Church out of the public
square". This was despite the "massive contributions" that the
Church made to public life. Christian moral values "still underpin
much of the constitution of this country", he argued; and Christian
faith was still shared by a "very significant proportion of the
Mr Trott expressed concern about the
potential formation of a "monolithic state, which imposes a
conformist ideology on all aspects of public life". Although
Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights set out
freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, Christians were not,
he suggested, permitted to manifest their faith, nor "live and work
according to our conscience", for fear of being branded as
"discriminatory". He gave as an example the stripping of Christian
symbols from hospital chapels.
Christians were, "chillingly", being
accused of "hate crimes" for speaking about their beliefs publicly.
It was the General Synod, not the Government nor the courts, that
should decide whether wearing the cross was a requirement of the
Christian faith. "When we choose to wear the cross publicly, we
identify ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom of God." By passing
the motion, the Synod would be "saying to Christians everywhere
that they should not be bullied into silence and anonymity".
(Archbishops' Council) said that "there are real problems about
balancing one right with another" in society. But "it is wrong to
talk of persecution of Christians in Britain today. To do so
demeans the experience of fellow Christians in other countries [who
are facing persecution]."
(Manchester), in a maiden speech, said that this was not a new
challenge for Christians: scripture and 2000 years of Christian
history showed that Christians had to endure trials. "The true
nature of the Church and Christianity can only be proved in how we
express our faith."
The Archdeacon of
Norwich, the Ven. Jan McFarlane (Norwich), said that
Christians should be "discerning" when reading press stories about
supposed instances of the persecution of Christians. "Looking to
the structures to defend us, complaining that we're being
sidelined, frankly isn't very attractive. Living out a confident,
upbeat, life-affirming faith is more likely to do the trick."
The Revd Professor Richard
Burridge, Dean of King's College, London (University of
London), supported the motion, and explained why he was proposing
an amendment to add "following the example of Jesus Christ" to the
motion. He asked: "Have we become embarrassed to mention the word
'Jesus' tonight? . . . I wear a cross because I want to follow
Jesus as Lord, not because it is a philosophy or religious system I
want to defend."
Dr Philip Giddings
(Oxford) proposed an amendment requesting the Archbishops' Council
to bring forward draft legislation to embody the conviction of the
motion in the canons. He said: "If we express it in a canon, we're
saying it to ourselves as well as rest of our community." Society,
he said, was suffering from religious illiteracy; and the view that
religion was a private matter was "increasingly to be found in
public service, local government, central government, and the
media. This inhibits the ability of Christians to speak in the
public square about the implications of following Jesus."
(Lichfield) reminded the Synod that at a previous group of sessions
she had asked for representations to be made to Government to
ensure Christians could manifest their faith in the workplace. The
answer she had been given, she said, was that the law did not
prohibit the manifestation of faith in the workplace. However,
there was a "chill factor that leads employers and others to
believe the law is more restrictive than it is." She went on: "I'd
like to know what practical response the Church has received, if
any. This is a Christian country, and we should be able to express
our faith without fear."
The Revd Dr Mark
Chapman (Oxford) said that, although the motion was
"unobjectionable", the assumptions in the background paper - that
Christian faith was being silenced by European institutions and
human-rights legislation - were "questionable". The danger was that
headlines would appear tomorrow reading: "Church of England
abandons human-rights legislation."
The Bishop of
Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher (Southern
Suffragans), said there had been "much more" resistance 20 years
ago to getting the Church involved in public affairs at a
local-government level. Now, local-government officers were
prepared to get engaged with churches, "because they see that
churches do things". He hoped, however, that the motion would be
passed "near to unanimously", because not to pass it "would send a
very, very bad signal . . . particularly to those around the world
who really are suffering persecution". They would feel
Dr Chik Kaw Tan
(Lichfield) said that it was "logical, reasonable, rational, and
honouring and pleasing to Christ" to proclaim the gospel. The good
news was "good news for society". The gospel should be proclaimed
boldly, graciously, and without compromise, even if it was
counter-cultural and unpopular.
Margaret Condick (St
Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that her enthusiasm for the motion
"waned" when she read the background paper, which, she said,
promoted a "growing mythology of slights against Christians". She
despaired when she heard "myths" about the marginalisation of
Christians repeated. "Just because the Daily Mail keeps
repeating these stories doesn't necessarily mean they're true."
Christians should not be insisting on their rights.
The Revd Dr Miranda
Threlfall-Holmes (Northern Universities) said the motion
did not "do justice to the complex ways Christianity and culture
have interacted with each other". Given the C of E's history of
preventing other manifestations of the Christian faith from
speaking out, "we need to earn the right to speak out, and to use
the right responsibly."
Professor Burridge's and Dr Giddings's
amendments were voted on and lost, and debate resumed on the main
Anirban Roy (London)
argued that Christians were able to manifest their faith in public
life. For example, on Palm Sunday, the congregation of St
Martin-in-the-Fields had marched around Trafalgar Square singing
hymns and waving palm fronds. "If I can manifest my faith publicly
with a donkey, what do the rest of you want to do?"
The Revd Stephen
Coles (London) said that he did not recognise "what a lot
of you are talking about", and did not understand "the language of
'them' and 'us'". The whole area of "conscience and law" required
"serious theological reflection", which should be undertaken by the
Faith and Order Commission.
The Synod carried the motion by 263 to
25, with 52 recorded abstentions. It read:
That this Synod express its
conviction that it is the calling of Christians to order and govern
our lives in accord-ance with the teaching of Holy Scripture, and
to manifest our faith in public life as well as in private, giving
expression to our beliefs in the written and spoken word, and in
practical acts of service to the local community and to the