Lord Carey: I look forward to a dialogue with Lord Bates. But I wish he had read my views more thoroughly
By Lord Carey
Lord Bates's criticism on this site of my recent article in the Daily Mail is well worth addressing because we both value frank exchanges of views – perhaps one of the greatest benefits of living in a democracy.
Let me begin by looking at the word ‘persecution’ which is a loaded one I prefer not to use about the plight of Christians in the UK. In my many travels to countries such as Sudan, Nigeria and Pakistan I have interceded on behalf of Christians who have faced punishment and death for one crime only – that of being a follower of Jesus Christ. That is persecution.
The type of experience increasingly facing Christians in the UK involves much less dramatic encounters with the authorities but in some cases the discrimination or marginalization experienced is both heartfelt and unjust. In only a few years we have moved into a situation where Roman Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close down, where public servants have been disciplined for expressing Christian beliefs, or been sacked for wearing the cross.
Very few people in public life have bothered to stand up for these people. Is it any wonder then that according to the recent ComRes poll an increasing number of Christians believe they are experiencing something akin to ‘persecution’?
Lord Bates criticized my intervention for daring to highlight the disparity between the government’s warm words about the contribution of the Christian faith and the actual hostile effects of policy on Christians. I wish he’d read my article more thoroughly. He makes an issue of the fact that that I have shown ‘precious little grace’ in quoting from a speech made during a ‘private reception’ with Christian leaders. In fact, I relied on the transcript of the Prime Minister’s supposedly ‘private’ remarks on the Downing Street website
Lord Bates suggests that I’m accusing the government of ‘Herod-like persecution’. Not at all. I’m suggesting that the coalition is following a trajectory set by previous governments which in spite of their warm words, they have done nothing to arrest. Take the support of the Prime Minister for the right of Christians to wear the cross, I have never heard a satisfactory explanation of why lawyers employed by thecoalition argued against this right in the European Court of Human Rights? I am surely not alone in wanting to see some correspondence between a government’s words and actions?
He does not address my concern that legislation to redefine marriage will narrow the space for freedom of conscience even further. The need for exemptions, for example, for registrars, whose terms and conditions of employment will be changed by the legislation, have been cavalierly dismissed by government ministers. He cites ministerial reassurances against differing legal opinions on whether teachers will be compelled to act against their conscience. I’m sure he doesn’t subscribe to the doctrine of the infallibility of ministers especially when faced by human rights challenges in the courts.
He misrepresents my point about the campaign to turn the Parliamentary chapel into a multi-faith prayer room. The very fact that this proposal by a Labour MP could even be entertained seriously by a coalition minister and the Speaker of the House speaks of a kneejerk secularism which deserves to be loudly questioned.
The Government rightly bristles when critics allege that legislating for same sex marriage is a distraction from their deficit-reduction strategy. Governments, they claim, can do more than one thing. Lord Bates should therefore understand that a considerable part of my own focus both before and after retirement has been on encouraging churches to prioritise global relief and development. He accuses me of ‘private prejudice’ in making no mention of the government achievements in the overseas aid budget. Let me put the record straight. I welcome the government’s achievement on this front. In 1998, with the then President of the World Bank I co-founded the World Faiths Development Dialogue which has had the support of successive British governments. I am Vice President of the relief agency, Tear Fund, an important charity very dear to my heart.
However, I do agree with Lord Bates contention that the churches have often been seen as ‘out-of-touch’ and obsessed with their own internal concerns. There is a fine line between a church ‘in touch’ and one which has capitulated to values which contradict the Gospel. I welcome debates among Christians and others about where that line falls. That is a dialogue I hope to continue with Lord Bates. Let me reiterate what I said at the beginning of my Mail article. I have a high regard for the Prime Minister. He deserves support on many fronts. Criticism of one aspect of his policy does not detract from that. I believe the Coalition has made a huge mistake with its plans to redefine marriage and I will continue to press this message home.