Revd. Canon J.John comments on the recent European Court rulings


Last week, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled on four separate appeals from British Christians over what they felt was unfair discrimination. You can find details elsewhere but let me summarise. In one case, widely felt to be the most minor, the court found in favour of the believer while in the other three it ruled that what had taken place had been justified. Now, in one sense, this ruling was not a big issue. None of these were life-or-death matters and no one went to prison. Yet it was a significant ruling and I agree with many that it is a landmark in the intensifying struggle between the 'social progressives', who seem to dominate our society, and Christians. Yet landmarks can also be revealing viewpoints.

Firstly, the cases have shown us the severity of the opposition against Christians. As a whole, we British Christians are gentle souls (possibly too gentle) who prefer to live and let live. We had assumed that the non-Christian world shared our desire for amiable coexistence. The rulings - and the cases that brought them - are proof that, in reality, there is hostility towards us. Many of us had probably assumed that Jesus was exaggerating when he said to his disciples in John 15:19 '. I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.' We may wish to think again.

Secondly, the ruling has shown us the strength of the opposition against us. We have seen an unholy alliance of New Atheists, gay-rights activists and general progressive social libertarians ganging up against traditional Christianity. This is bad enough. What has been worse has been the reaction of other people. Within the media (an utterly untypical element of the community) there has been, at best, apathy and, at worst, open rejoicing that we Christians have been put in our place. Worse still has been the realisation that a vast number of ordinary people whom we might have expected to show support have quietly walked on by, apparently preferring to toe the line rather than run the risk of guilt by association. And in all fairness, who can blame them? Why should they who do not know Jesus support the Lord's people?

Finally, it has shown us the strategy of the opposition. Quite evidently, what is being sought is nothing less than the expulsion of biblical Christianity from British society, eliminating utterly an effective, committed, proclaiming faith from any position of influence.

So what should our response be? Consider exactly how the opposition want to neutralise us. They want to force us into one of two reactions. The first is for Christians, by removing everything of offence, to adjust our faith into a politically correct form, acceptable to the will of society. There, universally tolerated, the Church would linger on as a harmless spiritual mood. It would not preach because there would be nothing to preach.

The second reaction would be for us to maintain our beliefs in all their unacceptability but instead to retreat into meeting behind closed doors, staying quiet and becoming - to hijack a phrase - 'the faith that dare not speak its name'. There, in our isolated, frightened silence we would exist as a curiosity of culture, a pathetic, dumb museum reminder of an ancient past. In the first case we would have retreated from our right relationship to God, in the second from our right relationships with our neighbour. In both cases, the Church would have ceased to be the Church of God. In both cases it would be rendered silent.

So what must we do? We must be faithful, and we must rely on God, on his Spirit and on his Word. Above all, we dare not retreat, whether physically into holy huddles or spiritually into a gospel-less faith. And if we perish in standing firm, what of it? After all, whatever the claims of the 'social progressives' they hardly offer us eternal life. It is also worth remembering that we are privileged to find ourselves called up into the great, recurrent battle of the ages between God's people and Caesar. For us, this Caesar is not - or at least not yet - personified in human form, but merely the spirit of the age. Let us be encouraged. For two thousand years Caesars of every form have attacked the Church, yet the Church still lives and every Caesar has died! CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.