Wallace Benn on the marginalisation of Christians in the UK

CT: Lord Justice Laws ruled last week that it would be “divisive” and “capricious” for the law to protect a moral position on the grounds of religious beliefs. How much did his ruling make sense to you?

WB: It doesn’t seem to me to be a rational judgement and doesn’t seem to understand either that until we change, this nation has an established Church and the constitution defends the Church. I think that religious freedom is a very, very important issue that we lose at great cost and it seems to me that Lord Laws, for reasons of his own and his own agenda, made a ruling that is rationally incomprehensible and actually very serious for the future of the Christian faith.

CT: You said you believe this is a “tricky moment” for Christians in the UK. Is there anything we can be hopeful about?

WB: I think sadly the politicians have adopted and promulgated a kind of multi-faith inclusivism as a sort of political correctness. If you talk to leaders of other faiths they don’t want Christians to lose their rights because they know that if Christians lose their rights in this country, they will lose their rights as well.

What we should have done is while maintaining our commitment as a Christian nation should have offered Christian hospitality to people of other faiths and secured their religious freedom here without actually abandoning the faith that has shaped our nation and made us who we are. Instead we’ve ended up with a politeness to everybody else but a nothingness of our own. So we really need to get back to our moorings as a nation.

CT: Are you concerned about the debate in recent months over whether there should be a completely democratically elected House of Lords. Do you see that as a sign that the secular worldview is becoming increasingly entrenched in the UK?

WB: There are two issues there. The first is whether you want two Houses that are simply democratic Houses that can be packed out by the government of the day or whether you want another chamber where people of merit who have served the nation in one way or another can have a voice as a kind of extra voice or a check on what parliament may do for its own reasons.

I actually think that the House of Lords has an honoured place as a part democratically elected body and I would be very sad to see the bishops removed from the House of Lords. If we were at a secure place where we were again a thoroughly Christian nation I think that would be the time for the bishops to cease to be there but in the meantime they need to stand up for Christian values on behalf of all Christians and should do that - and have been increasingly doing that recently - with a united voice more.

CT: Looking to the election this week, there are many calls from Christian leaders and bodies that Christians should vote but there are also concerns that a new Government is not actually going to bring any real change in terms of a balance of rights for Christians and non-Christians.

WB: I signed the Westminster Declaration and I think it is very important that Christians vote and vote carefully but they need to ask what the local parliamentary candidate will do or has done in terms of their voting record, in upholding Christian moral values and Christian teaching. And therefore we need to think very long and hard. The Christian Institute has issued a briefing for the election which is very helpful.

CT: There was some controversy surrounding the Westminster Declaration and some Christians came out to say they were not signing it.

WB: Well, I wish some Christians would understand what the main thrust of the declaration initiated by Lord Carey was. We simply undermine some of the things we are standing for if other Christians criticise them in public so I wasn’t impressed with Faithworks and its criticism of Westminster 2010. I thought it was ill-timed and misjudged.

CT: Do you think the church is alert to the discrimination that some Christians are experiencing in the public arena?

WB: I do think the church needs to wake up and, much more importantly, Bible-believing Christians need to wake up to what’s happening in the nation. We do need to gain our voice again. A friend of mine said he thought the church in the West generally was suffering from a lack of confidence. I’ve pondered that phrase and I think there’s a great deal of truth in it. You don’t find Christians in Asia, Africa and South America being afraid to use their voices.

I think we are becoming marginalised and too easily silenced when we need to with grace but with courage speak up for Jesus and we do so out of love for the society we are part of. We will do everything to win people for Jesus but we will defend to the death the right of others to exercise a different faith or a different way.

CT: There are Christians who believe that Christians in the UK are being persecuted. Other Christians are against using the word “persecution” to describe the UK context. Would you say it is too strong a word?

WB: Christians often get divided over semantics. One of my dear friends is Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi in Jos, in northern Nigeria, and the killings of Christians there, that is real persecution. But there is in the West a more subtle form of persecution which is psychological, of either indifference or hostility. I prefer the word marginalisation to persecution because in England we are not suffering the way that some of our brothers and sisters are suffering around the world, but we are being dangerously marginalised and we need to wake up to that.