Are Christians the victims of discrimination?

This was the question that I was asked to answer on The Heaven and Earth Show on BBC1 last Sunday, 18th March.  It is my view that discrimination against faith groups does exist in the UK, and so consequently, Christians are sometimes the victims of discrimination.

However, there can be a number of reasons for this.  Sometimes, it may be that the services that we are offering are not of a high enough standard, particularly when it comes to issues around funding.  Or, it might be that we are perceived to be a soft target because Christianity is understood to be the majority religion in the UK.  It could also be that people misunderstand what being a Christian really means – they think that all we are interested in is converting people, and do not understand that we care about serving people holistically because it is the right thing to do.  It has to be said, regretfully, that the Church has not always helped itself at changing this misunderstanding.

Discrimination always springs from prejudice, and prejudice always springs from ignorance.  A lot of wider British society is ignorant about what it actually means to have a Christian faith, which often leads to them caricaturing us.

So how do we solve this problem?  I think that we need to address the issue of faith as a motivation for what we do.  This means that government needs to understand what it really means to be a "Christian" project – that we can and do deliver services without trying to force everyone to become Christians.  But it also means that we must live this out, and be non-prejudicial and non-discriminatory in the way that we ourselves work.

The world around us is shifting, and we are moving from a place of privilege to the margins of society, which I believe is a more authentic, although more difficult, place of spirituality and service.  The issues at stake are our understanding of Christian identity, equality, influence, conscience and diversity.  If you would like to read my thoughts on this in detail, please click here.

I would love to hear your views on this – please let me know what you think.


  1. Discrimination does come from prejudice but prejudice doesn’t necessarily come from ignorance. Prejudice, as a marriage of reason and emotion, can come from ignorance, (although reason tells us no one can know everything) but it can also come from deep knowledge and understanding. Just because we understand something doesn’t mean we won’t be prejudiced against it in fact it might mean we’re even more prejudiced against it.
    So discrimination against Christians might come because people understand Christianity…and just thoroughly disagree with it. If the real issue was a conflict of ideas/beliefs and not just misunderstanding between people who hold those idea/beliefs, would this change your approach?

  2. You’re right Chris. Prejudice can be driven by understanding and disagreement and wilful desire to discriminate.
    Would that change my approach? I think there is a line which we should not cross – we must always seek to be authentically Christ-like. That also means sometimes saying, to quote Luther, ‘Here I stand, I cannot and will not recant’. I guess in some situations of discrimination that is what we must do – and live witht the consequences of our allegiance to Christ.

  3. Should we not then, like Luther, seek to persuade secular and religious institutions to support Christianity for the good of wider society? Luther may have started on the margins of society but he didn’t end up there.
    In this particular year, it is also relevant to point to Wilberforce and other Christians in that time who, again, started on the margins and moved to the centre, thereby doing society a great good.
    As you can see I actually think Christians should not deliberately move to the margins of society but fight, not for their rights or for their good but for the wider society, in the centre of society, in its institutions and to the cultural, political and economic leaders of our day.

  4. I think we are saying the same thing. I just don’t hink that we need to hold power at the centre in order to influence it greatly. The wider good should always be served, but we do not have to hold power to influence society. Luther did not seek political power. He spoke from a place of spiritual power and authenticity and this led to his influence growing. That is the best way for us to use our power and our influence and our position. We belong at of the solution because we have God at our heart and Christ at the centre. We stand on the margins because Jesus did and it is where we belong. I think you are stuck in a Christendom model that needs to be prised open.

  5. If Christians move to ‘the margins of society’ they become of marginal influence. That just stands to reason. Perhaps you meant to phrase it differently. My point is that the really big changes in terms of helping people who really are on the margins of society, or the poor, or the uneducated or the impoverished have come via the political and social institutions that were in place. I’m not saying Christians should control these institutions but I am saying they should not deliberately abandon them. I find it difficult to see how moving to the margins of society and embracing a role limited to that space will make that still an option.
    I’m afraid I am worried that when you say ‘authentic’ it sounds quite arrogant. Christians are to be authentic in every and any situation and to seek a situation where that becomes easier is a kind of modern day monasticism. Do we retreat to allow us to be more authentic to our idea of what a Christian should be? Surely not! I would be totally against any withdrawal from any part of society in order to help preserve our own sense of holiness. This may be a bit harsh because it implies an accusation of both defeatism and sanctimony, but it is something that genuinely worries me in what you say. I think a victim mentality is a very attractive place to be for people in the current cultural environment. I think a lot of people have a tendency to automatically see marginalised, discrimanated against or oppressed people as more authentic than others. I think we should guard against this.
    Finally, I don’t have a model of Christendom as Christendom is a description more than a model. In fact, I’m limiting my remarks deliberately to this country as I don’t know enough to talk about the rest of Christendom. What I am convinced about is that the best of this society makes no sense without an understanding of Christianity.

  6. I entirely disagree with you Chris. Standing on the margins does not mean marginal influence, or marginal engagement. It means being willing to give ourselves away, knowing that God is never on the margins of life.

  7. Hi malcolm, Chris,
    I would say that from the margins is the only place to speak from as Christians.
    If we are to stand with those on themargins of society, with the dispossed and those whose voice is very quiet, how can we offer them our voice, unless we are standing with them, living our experiences with them.
    As an aside, my experience is that a voice which is clearly involved with those living the difficulties is more clearly heard by those who choose to hear, than somone standing in the centre of government, policy and power.
    My understanding (very lmited) of church history is that the church thrives and helps people best when it has not been in power, and tends to excess and autocracy when in powerm seeking to command it’s morals in others? Is that acurate?

  8. Thanks for joining in! It was getting a bit lonely with just Malcolm and myself batting things backwards and forwards.
    I just think that viewing Christian life through a prism that says you can only be effective and ‘authentic’ on the margins of society doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as a useful paradigm.
    On the issue of having to stand and live with the marginalised to speak for them this has just not been the case. To be ‘a man for the people’ does not mean he has to be ‘a man of the people’. There are numerous examples of people, Christians or others, who have done great things for justice for the poor and the marginalised without directly sharing their lives. In fact, most political leaders live lives fairly aloof from the people they serve. There are also biblical examples such as Daniel, Esther, David, Nicodemus and possibly Ezra (although I’ll have to check on the details).
    My point is not that Christians should seek to dominate power for this reason; I don’t hink they ever have except perhaps some rather chaotic experiments during Cromwell’s time. My point is that to make a distinction between ‘authentic’ Christian living on the margins and a supposed denial of Christ’s example by seeking to change lives and society by working through existing institutions is not helpful. Christians should do both and Christians in both cases are authentic, demonstrably so.
    As for church history, it is the case that temporal power for a church is likely to pollute its spiritual message. However, it is the case that sometimes it was the church who had to take on certain temporal responibilities and did a good job of service to society. I’m thinking of the role of churches and monasteries in the Dark Ages, the role of monasteries and church lands in the Middle Ages in which the poor were better treated, better off and were communities, albeit highly hierachical, that showed society an better way to live although not perfect. There is the role of the Bishops in establishing a religious settlement that allowed for a wide degree of toleration and prevented religious wars that raged elsewhere and paved the way for freedom of religion. There is also from a different angle the example of the Jesuit Reductions in South America. There are numerous other examples that demonstrate the great good of a Christian voice at the heart of a society’s institutions. But as I say it comes at a price of our own spiritual purity as to be involved in politics is to compromise. What I’m saying is is I think that it is part of the churches calling to be willing to perhaps jeopardise a clear image of its own purity in order to serve. It is, in a way, a willingness to sacrifice our pride in our own righteousness to do a great good and that, I’m afraid, is what being in the world but not of it, is about. Not all are called to it, but those who serve at the margins at least have the consolation of having to compromise less in a sense. I understand Christianity to be a calling to serve Christ wherever you are and that it is possible to do so wherever you are. Therefore, I am suspicious of a deliberate rush to the margins of society as too exclusive a view.

  9. Reading The Mail on Sunday 18.03.07, the article by Jonathan Oliver, Page 15, highlights the findings of the BBC Poll confirming what I have been trying to say for months, that Christians are being discriminated against in Britain today more than any other group. Recently many Christians have expressed their deep concerns over the governments forced Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) using the guise of yet more gay rights legislation to discriminate against Christians and force them to act against their beliefs, values and conscience. Yet the government has totally ignored their protest and made no concessions. Ever since the protest outside the House of Lords against the SORs I have been trying to bring to the publics attention that there is a hidden aggressive secularist agenda led by this Government and supported by influential aggressive liberal secularist. It’s time Christians woke up and started to fight back before it’s too late.

  10. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for coming back and apols for the dealy in replying.
    I think there are (as always) issues of language and perspective here. I agree that a ruch to the edges of society would be unseemly. I think that a rush to occupy power would also be unseemly. I find the Christian People’s Aliance for example extremely difficult to cope with, however good their intentions.
    Perhaps we need to redefine our terms. LEt me say then that I belive that communities, including disposessed communities are the heart of our communities. At the same time they are often excluded from and at the margins of our political and power stuctures.
    Many people have been involved and done great things though Government for example. Wilberforce for example was a key mover n the parliamentary resistanece to slavery, but I’ve no doubt that his repeated and persistant obstruction of a profitable trade placed him at the margins of of the government of the time, or that he spent time with those who were slaves?? None of that miay be true – but it’s how I imagine it.
    So yes, I agree, serve God where we are, but to strive to be always at the centre of the powerbase loses the edge of what I think must always be a frsutrated message for change.
    Steve Chalke seesm to a good example of this, and faithworks, integrating with Government plans, being a tool for creating a more Christlike society (in my opinion), but maintaining a clear voice with power speaking for change, as well as applauding the good as we see it. As you say – it all seems like a balancing act. Parhaps anotyher way to look at it would be a conversation, a dialogue, in which we retain fully who we are, whilst engaging meaningfully.
    Are we coming togeter more now?

  11. Hi Simon, I can;t find the MoS article, but didn’t the poll capture feelings rather than facts?
    I spent some of today with Govenrment advisors who had visited to find out what some local groups, specifically, faith communities were doing in the area, to see what good practice and ideas they might be able to move elsewhere. My job is to work with faith communities and I’m funded by the government.
    I’m saying this to highlight my experience that this Government is working more than ever perhaps with faith commnities, and with wider communities. far from a secularist agenda, it seems to be one in which the role of faith and faith communities are valued. I recognise that security is the trigger for much of this, towards the building of cohesive communities, but they are workign with commnuities, and taking ideas from them , rather than disgarding or ignoring.
    It seems to me that the SOR is about percieved discrimination (and I agree with them, with the exceptions), rather than anti-faith.
    Could I ask what else has led you to feel the govenrment has a secularist agenda?

  12. malcolm – hi…
    I read the link today, (I think I was distracted by the comments before!)
    I really like the emphasis and the langauge you used. I like that you are specific around child welfare, but also welcome about what is being done. It’s also great to hear someone speaking about the wealth of work being done within faith communities.
    Are you aware of the ‘Black Coutry faith survey’ – aimed at identifiying the contribution of faith communities in the Black Country?
    I’m curious about the last paragraph. Would you mid expanding on it, particualy the terms you used.

  13. Hi Steve
    Which part of what I have said would you like me to expand upon? I wasn’t sure which bit you mean, so if you come back to me I will respond. Thanks for engaging in the discussion though.

  14. Malcolm wrote:
    Do you think there is ever a point at which Christians should ‘fight back’ as you put it physically, i.e. use force?
    Simon Icke’s Reply:
    When I say fight back I mean it’s time for Christians to be bold and stand and be counted and to use their combined strength through the democratic process, using the power of the word both written and verbal and by peaceful protest and campaigning. We should be pro-active not re-active, ideally. But we shouldn’t be afraid to use plain speaking when it’s called for. As you can see from my previous postings on this site and many other sites, I believe in saying it as it is, even if the words are uncomfotable to many. I don’t believe in being ‘wishy washy’ or writing what people want to hear. In these difficult spiritual times for our nation there is a need for clarity and positive leadership. It’s not a time for sitting on the fence and seeing what happens.
    The Lord has empowered us with the authority and wisdom of The Holy Spirit to speak clearly to this, mostly, Godless society. My challenge is to the believers as well as the non-believers. If my words sometimes seem provocative that’s because they are meant to be. To disturb peoples comfort zones and make them think, whether they agree with me or not is not the point. As a Christian I am not in the business of being a sheep and following the crowd or trying to appease militant minorities who have a disproportionate say in our UK society.
    The silent majority have been ignored time and time again by this arrogant government and many people are starting to wake up and say ‘enough is enough’. In my view the SORs are a prime example of that. Two wrongs don’t make a right; how can it be right to discriminate against one group to appease another? To the extent where people will be asked to act against their deep held beliefs and values or risk being arrested. Despite your reasurrances and the wait and see line you are taking on this important issue(although sincerely held I am sure), I believe you are very much mistaken on this one.
    I am sure there are now going to be many instances of forced conflicts because of these rushed and ill thought out SORs. Christians didn’t want this, this arrogant Government through not listening to the genuine concerns voiced by many people of faith,(not just Christians), have brought this unprecedented situation about.
    It’s one thing as a Christian not to be judgemental and to show love and kindness to all people, but it is something else to have no respect coming the other way and for people to have their beliefs and values rubbed in the dirt. Especially when it is being led by the Government!
    Myself and many other will continue to protest by peaceful means and within the law not just against these percieved unfair SORs but on many other moral issues facing this country. I hope in future your organisation will join in this peaceful fight for our rights, our values and our Christian heritage.
    Fight the good fight with all your might, is the call, using wisdom, grace and love but also fairness and justice to all, not, just a militant few.

  15. Thanks Malcolm, I’ll reply on the right thread shall I!
    Simon – When you say ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’ it sounds as if you are recognising the discrimination in a person being able tobe turned away from a business because of their sexuality.
    What would your solution to that intial discrimination be?

  16. Simon – When you say ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’ it sounds as if you are recognising the discrimination in a person being able tobe turned away from a business because of their sexuality.
    What would your solution to that intial discrimination be?
    I am not aware of any existing discrimination, where is the evidence?
    Therefore I do not believe these SORs are necessary. What I am saying is there should be mutual respect, these new regulations do not allow for that. Certain militant gays will test the new regulations and I believe they will dilberately create conflict by challenging Christians to act against their beliefs, values and conscience. So you think that is OK?

  17. It seems I misunderstood, apologies.
    It seems like I misunderstood what you were saying.
    On your question, I agree that mutal respect should be a key factor in our relationshsip with others. I think what you call ‘militant’ parties on all sides deny each other that respect, and deliberatly create conflict. I don’t think that’s a good thing.
    However, I suspect that most people involved in these debates are those who simply want to be able to live out their life without being condemnded or turned away becasue of who they are.
    Becasue of different deeply held values, beliefs, and conscience on different sides, that’s a slow and often painful process to figure out how that works – how we can find ways to live together.
    I hope that the militants seeking to cause conflict, including those from the Christian church, will not derail that process.

  18. Steve,
    I myself, if I owned a business, would not turn people away because of their faith, sexuality, sex or race, except with the exception of a hotel/BB in which I also lived and if I ran a printing business, but then I would also feel free to refuse to print material that was hate-filled and even with poltical views I didn’t agree with. But these are well-worn examples. My point is that people should be free to decide how they dispose of their goods and services. It is not business of the government except to regulate practises such as not placing signs advertising the fact e.g. the old ‘no blacks, no Irish’ signs. However, this is because it intrudes into the public space and I would also agree that stronger guidlines are right and proper for government institutions. If I have a problem with a muslim who would refuse business to my wife because her head is not covered or whatever (this would be a very rare case and is purely hypothetical, I know) but it would not be a legal problem and I would not want to have a legal right to force them against their beliefs. We can argue that out as individuals and they must run the risk of me privately, raising awareness to damage their business but the largest role the government should have in this is as a regulator not as a moral dictator that imposes its view of universal human rights (which as an aside, is NOT a Christian concept although there is superficially some considerable common moral ground).

  19. Thanks Chris – I agree that these are difficult issues, and ones which I think need to be workwed out in conversation and engagement.
    I guess I would say that the numerous cases cited in the consultation, of for example, gay couples being asked to leave resteraunts, simply for holding hands, show that in many cases we’re not engaging.
    I don’t feel legislation answers all questions, and in a perfect world wouldn’t be needed, but think that in this case, it’s a good step towards initiating that debate between people of good faith, while protecting those who have been discrimated against.
    I’m sure it’s not perfect, but…
    On your example –
    I’m not sure whether I would want a legal right for an issue like the one you describe. I’m certain though that I would want a legal right not to be discimated against for example, if I chose to pray during my lunchtime at my workplace, or not to be asked to leave a restaraunt, because I was wearing a small cross or talkign about God with my friends.
    I would say that this legislation is closer though to race relations legislation (aware that many will disagree)than regulations about faith.
    In the end it’s an argument about both freedom of action, and about the free market. I think this legislation follows the growing feeling that freedom of action has to be limited if we are all to experience a degree of it, and that the free market has to be moderated if we care about the disadvabtaged in our society.
    What do you think?

  20. I mentioned this elsewhere but the overt display of homosexuality may not be as neutral as you make out in its effect on society. Some would object through irrational and bigoted reaction. Others of us because we see it as an overt rejection of the reaching out to the ‘unknown other’ that is a heterosexual relationship which in its God-sanctioned form, ‘marriage’, allows human beings to imitate Christ and His church and also as ameans to gain a greater understanding of God’s complete character that is reflected in male and female humanity. Obviously, this doesn’t run through one’s head like this in a restaurant but the strong reaction can stem from this rightly centred view of marriage either conciously or sub-conciously. Either way it is likely to hit the evening’s atmosphere! Just to make the point that not everyone who might be offended by the behaviour you describe are unthinking or unfeeling bigots. And in fact if you felt that homosexuality does indeed undermine marriage and therefore the fundamental building block of society you might feel there was a case for discrimination. You wouldn’t if you believed in a paradigm of universal human rights but you might if you felt that individuals are born, not with rights, but responsibilities to God, their family and their wider community.

  21. Thanks Chris, interesting stuff.
    I do believe that we are born as individuals, but with both individual and community responsibilities. Whether or not I would want to legislate what I thought those responsibilities might be is another matter.
    My difficulty you see is when we apply the principle elsewhere. I might think that for example (many Christians seem to) that Islam in any form is a nagation of our responsibility to God, and jepordises the fundemental buildign blocks of our society. I might then have a case for discrimantion against muslims, and against the fabric of Islam, eg mosques, imams, halal food etc.
    I’m sure I don’t need to extend this to other possible subjects.
    What happens though when someone believes that Christianity is dangerous and damaging to society – devisive even. We would surely argue against this and seek to show otherwise. I wonder though what is the different between these views?
    In the end it seems to come down to a (even very humble and genuine) I’m right though, and God is on my side’.
    I’m interested to see of you arrive somewhere else with this, as for me, this distination doesn’t seem a strong enough basis on which to discrimanate against something?
    On the question of what else, well, this does of course play a part, but it seems to me that laws and sociatal standards are made out of various people with many different beliefs coming together in consensus and mediation, and continually re-evaluating?

  22. “On the question of what else, well, this does of course play a part, but it seems to me that laws and sociatal standards are made out of various people with many different beliefs coming together in consensus and mediation, and continually re-evaluating?”
    Can you give an example?

  23. Lest We Forget
    by Simon Icke c. 2006
    Have we forgotten their ultimate sacrifice?
    Of these men and women who died in their millions?
    Brave and true, without question,
    Proud to be British, not ashamed to be Christian.
    So many years have past,
    It seems our memory doesn’t last.
    Forgetting these courageous people to our shame,
    Why can’t we remember their names?
    How short is our memory,
    That we have forgotten them already.
    Died in their millions fighting for our freedom,
    Believing in free democratic ideology.
    What does it take to wake up this country?
    To rise once again from its complacency.
    How much more do we take, before we decide to fight,
    For our beliefs, our traditions and democracy?

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