I was taken aback by reaction to yesterday’s news from the European Courts in which a landmark case ruled that British Airways were wrong in chastising Nadia Eweida, an employee, for wearing a cross whilst at work. This news is widely and loudly being heralded as a triumph for religious liberty -proof that Christians are wide of the mark when claiming to suffer discrimination.
But hang on! This was not a stand alone case and a profoundly different picture emerges when we consider it alongside the other three cases, all of which failed, which were heard at the same time. The case of nurse Shirley Chaplain, banned from wearing a cross on a chain as a nurse. The case of marriage guidance counsellor Gary McFarlane who objects to offering sex therapy to homosexuals. And the case of registrar, Lillian Ladele, who refused to perform same sex ceremonies having ensured others would cover in her absence.
Four cases heard and only one upheld is hardly victory. An outlook which only becomes gloomier when we consider the deeper implications of what transpired. Cases concerning the wearing of jewellery were sympathetically heard. (Shirley Chaplain was told a chain constitutes a health hazard for a nurse, which seems fair, and was advised to wear a small lapel badge instead) But all the cases which touch on the living out of faith within the workplace, as opposed to merely advertising your membership, fell foul of law.
Understand the implications. As an orthodox Christian you may just about get away with wearing a badge honouring your faith in the workplace but the moment you act on that faith then expect trouble. Which given the direction and practice of modern society is chilling news indeed. Catholic teachers will be expected to teach a curriculum that subverts Catholicism and upholds secular humanism. Catholic midwives may struggle to find employment if they refuse to abort babies or hand out artificial contraception or accept the ‘Liverpool pathway’. Catholic teaching on human sexuality will need to be ignored if any wish to work as registrars or counsellors or social workers. We are gradually being removed from public office by matter of conscience.
So please put away that bunting. This is a challenging situation for the Church given that our faith is manifestly not an insignificant badge merely pointing to what we do at home, to be left dormant on our lapels when we enter the public square. No, our faith is an active thing, a deep part of who we are and it informs what we can and cannot do. It forms our opinions, our character and our practice and, if lived out properly, we cannot remove if even if we wanted to, which we don’t.
This touches on the real issue lurking beneath the legislation and modern bullying of Christians. The huberis of the Western elite. A predominantly secularist body, subservient to a relativistic humanist creed, who seem hellbent on building a brave new world in their image. This group, who hold a monopoly on power today, have become so utterly self assured, so completely convinced of their intellectual superiority, that they commit a terrible sin of pride in forgetting that their world view (on religion or anything else) is only that, a view and not truth itself.
Convinced of their grand status then as arbiters of truth- and not only of truth but enlightenment, liberal decency, tolerance and justice too (despite having founded Western values we Christians apparently know nothing)- the Western elite are now moving to the next logical step in this post modern crusade. The imposition of their will on us the little people. Being decent sorts (they are enlightened libertarians after all) they will just allow us to break ranks in our private lives and in the home- but in the public square secularist principles now rule. We witness the humanist belief system overthrowing the old Christian order. A secular will that is being routinely enforced on us and presented as if it were the only civilised option for society.
The arrogance with which they hold their view makes it hard for debate to flourish and clears the ground for potential tyranny. What do we mean when we say we disagree? Given that they are so right then we must be backward or bigoted or worse! And when we witness the Church being secularised from within as well as without the situation is worsened. The Gospel voice gets lost amidst myriad confused opinions stemming from our own ranks. From a Christian populace living out a half remembered faith yet formed within this firmly secular culture. Strange hybrids who lurch between the competing truths of the Christian past and secular present.
So understand this legislation is not good news but merely more of the same from Europe. The days of easy Christian witness are over. It is time for us to stand firm in the faith and be prepared to be misunderstood and misrepresented. But hang in there because a battle is raging over our identity and culture and future. And if you doubt how bad that is consider how much more greed and corruption we are seeing in the modern secular world than was found in the Christian culture of yesteryear. Consider how selfishness abounds and economies are failing.
But despite the gloom do not lose hope. This is far from the first regime to have sought our destruction. And, more often than not, it is we who survive to pick up the pieces when it fails. And who can deny that it is failing when we look to the inequality and crisis of our day. Like the pigs in Animal Farm the new regime may preach ‘equality’ but it seems some animals are more equal than others as the gap between rich and poor is widening and the fabric of society is unravelling. Pray today for true tolerance and liberty and understanding. And pray for those who are so utterly convinced of their own world view that they are blind to their own failings and the needs and gifts of others. It seems a better response to me than cheering because we can all now wear jewellery.