UK CHRISTIANS have more freedom to evangelise and manifest their beliefs than recent headlines suggest, but should use the freedom wisely, a new report says.
The report, Speak Up: The law and your gospel freedoms, was published this month by the Evangelical Alliance and the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, amid growing reports of disciplinary action against Christians who shared their faith in public and at work.
In one of the most recent cases, Victoria Wasteney, a senior occupational therapist at East London NHS Foundation Trust, lost an appeal earlier this year against an Employment Tribunal ruling that her managers were right to discipline her for not respecting the “boundaries between her spiritual and professional life”, after a Muslim colleague complained that she was being harassed and bullied by Miss Wasteney’s evangelism (News, 15 April, 8 May 2015). After the ruling, the Christian Legal Centre said that the judgment “raises serious questions as to whether any Christian in a position such as Victoria’s will be protected, if they manifest their faith in the workplace”.
The report says, however, that Christians are free to evangelise and manifest their faith at work if it is done “with wisdom and consideration”.
“Anyone reading the headlines could be excused for thinking that Christians cannot share their faith at work. This is mistaken,” the report says. “In the vast majority of cases, employers will have little problem with Christian employees sensitively discussing Jesus and religious issues with workmates in the same way that you might talk about sport, hobbies and family life.
“Across the country every day many prayer meetings and Bible studies take place at work, often with facilities provided by the employer. Innumerable lively debates and discussions about Jesus Christ also take place during lunch times, over a coffee, or after work. An employer’s desire is to ensure that all their employees work well together.
“Giving employees freedoms in the workplace, including the freedom to communicate what they believe, helps with wellbeing and can ensure a happier, better-performing workforce. While there are cases of people being disciplined or dismissed for sharing their faith, these are rare and, for various reasons, the full facts are not always accurately reported.”
The report also defends the activities by street preachers. It says that there is “a well-established freedom, protected by UK law, to preach on a public street”, and that “the law does not entitle a street preacher to be silenced simply because someone listening is offended or upset.”
But the report counsels against “contentious or provocative” preaching. It says: “Where public evangelism is greeted with hostility and provocation it would be wise to consider how effective it is for the kingdom of God to continue preaching in that way and in that place at that time.”
The report — which, its authors emphasise, provides guidance rather than legal advice — has been welcomed by church leaders, MPs, and lawyers. A circuit judge, Heather Baucher, described it as “a succinct and helpful guide which should be kept readily to hand. Once read, it will encourage Christians to be emboldened in sensitively sharing their faith.”