This article appeared in the Scottish Edition of the Mail on Sunday on 14 Feb 2016.
Forum for debate? If you’re a Christian, Twitter is the new lynch mob!
The Free Church Moderator takes issue with those who would discriminate against religious believers
PICTURE the scene. You are a young, enthusiastic, wannabe politician with wonderful gifts. These gifts have propelled you to the top of your party’s list and you are duly selected as the prospective candidate for your local constituency.
And then it begins. Someone spreads the word that you are a Christian and therefore ‘suspect’ on such social mores as samesex marriage and abortion. A few discreet phone calls to party officials and friendly journalists and suddenly you find yourself classed as a regressive Christian bigot and homophobe rather than the enlightened progressive candidate that obviously every politician should be.
This is not fanciful. This is the reality of the politics of ‘tolerance’ that is becoming the staple diet of modern Scotland. Take the case of Sophia Coyle, a prospective Nationalist MSP who has been hounded because she is a Catholic who holds to basic Catholic teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage. The Scottish Green Party said her views called into question her ‘suitability as a public representative’. It reminded me of a friend who was a Green councillor in Brighton and suspended from the party because she did not accept same-sex marriage. Or the prospective Tory MP who wrote asking me to remove her name from a seven-year-old blog because she said that LGBT activists trawled the internet looking to link prospective politicians with noted ‘homophobes’ (ie, anyone who dares to disagree with them).And what about Jim Murphy, the former Scottish Labour leader constantly referred to by militant secularists as ‘the Catholic Jim Murphy’ or ‘the PopeLoving Jim Murphy’.
BUT here’s the rub. It’s not just the party machines, or the power of the media. Take the 18th Century Gordon Riots. After a measure of Catholic emancipation had been passed, Lord Gordon spoke to mass rallies and stirred up a mob antiCatholic feeling, which resulted in anarchy in London and more than 700 people killed. The 21st Century equivalent is social media.
I told the Scottish parliament sub-committee on religious freedom last week my concern is that, while we do not experience the kind of persecution that is so often the norm for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, there is a danger that through ‘salami tactics’ – slice by slice – discrimination is increasing against Christians.
Marxist writer Brendan O’Neill has spoken of ‘the silent war on religion’ driven by two factors, the spread of hate speech legislation and the rise of new and intrusive ‘equality’ laws.
We can see how this works in practice. Everyone knows that your local Sunday School or Women’s Guild is not a hot-bed of Christian radicalism producing warriors for Jesus threatening to bomb our cities. But the Government, in its ‘Prevent’ strategy, feels it has to be fair and treat all religions ‘equally’ – and so all are lumped together.
Tory MP Mark Spencer argued that new banning orders intended to deal with the problem of Islamist terrorism should be used against Christian teachers who tell children gay marriage is wrong. Consider also these chilling words from Polly Harrow, head of safeguarding at Kirklees College in Huddersfield. She was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if a Muslim who believes homosexuality is wrong should be accepted.
Her chilling answer? ‘If that’s what you think and that’s what you want to believe and you want to hold that in your head, that is your business and your right. But bear in mind that if you speak it out loud you might be breaking the law.’
This is where we have come to in the Land of the Free. You can believe what you want – but if you say it out loud you might be breaking the law.
I have found that if you believe marriage is between a man and a woman; or that killing the baby in the womb is wrong; or that retaining our Christian education system might be a good idea; or that the Creator might have had something to do with the Creation – you are immediately bracketed as an ‘extremist’ Christian on a par with IS. This is the experience of many Christians who do not bow the knee to current social mores and dare to get involved in public life. Sometimes a quiet word is had with the producer, boss or party leader and the person is ‘deselected’ or no longer asked to appear.
I WAS asked to be a regular contributor to a BBC programme but after being ambushed on the issue of the day – transgender rights – and stating that I don’t think it is a good idea to encourage five-year-olds to choose one of 26 genders, I found myself quietly removed (without being told, I was just ‘uninvited’). There was a social media hate campaign that attacked me because of my ‘hateful’ views. It’s ironic that sometimes the best place to experience hate is to go to an anti-hate rally.
In the name of tolerance, the social media mob demand intolerance of anyone who does not share their views. In the name of freedom they insist anyone who does not agree with them should be removed. I recall one incident where a school was being bracketed for attack by a militant secularist group because it had someone who believed the world was created by God.
Or think of last week’s fuss about the appointment of Baptist Christian Dan Walker as presenter of BBC Breakfast. Apparently this was such big news that it warranted several articles in the mainstream broadsheets questioning how someone who believes in a Creator and that Sunday is special could present the news ‘impartially’. Cue social media hysteria.
I happen genuinely to believe in the real British values of freedom, tolerance, equality and diversity. I also believe these fruits have come from the roots of our Christian heritage. Incidentally, I was once banned by a BBC Scotland Thought for the Day producer who said I was not allowed to speak about Britain’s Christian heritage because it might offend someone.
My concern is that once we remove the roots, it will not be long before we lose the fruits.
The removal of the Christianity upon which our society is founded will result in an authoritarian secular state or an authoritarian religious state. Freedom of speech, freedom of ideas and freedom of religion are crucial to the wellbeing of our society. If we do not defend, maintain and promote these foundational freedoms while we have them, we will find that once we have lost them, it will be too late.
Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland
Director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity.