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Before we get too many emails, I am well aware that ‘perillous’ should be spelt with only one l on both sides of the Atlantic. However, the double l spelling is the one used by John Foxe, in his 1653 book Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, touching Matters of the Church, better known to us as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.1 Foxe catalogued the persecution and, in some cases, execution of leading English Christian figures, such as John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and John Bunyan.
An old chestnut of a wayside pulpit sign reads “If you were arrested for being a Christian, how much evidence would there be against you?” Although I haven’t noticed the rekindling of the execution fires, recorded by Foxe, that ended the lives of Bishops Latimer and Ridley, during the reign of England’s most wicked monarch, Queen Mary I, the British press is beginning to debate whether certain tenets of the Christian faith are, or should be, illegal. Such discussions led conservative journalist Melanie Phillips to record her views on “How Britain is turning Christianity into a crime.”2 She reported on a number of recent incidents, which would have been considered bizarre just twenty years ago. One such case was that of elderly preacher Harry Hammond. Admittedly, Hammond’s techniques were eccentric to say the least. In October 2001, he travelled into Bournemouth, wearing a placard, which stated “Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism.” A crowd soon gathered, including a number of gay activists. These liberal campaigners for human rights proceeded to pelt Hammond with soil and water, at one point knocking the 70-year-old to the ground. The two police officers who attended the scene actually disagreed about what to do; the older, more experienced officer favouring protecting Hammond, with the younger, more politically-correct officer suggesting Hammond be arrested and charged under the Public Order Act. Guess whose opinion prevailed? Shortly after Hammond’s trial and conviction, he died.
Such news items are currently receiving a fresh hearing, following the publication of a poll, taken by BBC Religious Affairs programme, The Heaven and Earth Show, which suggested that 25% of people, who call themselves Christians, feel that they suffer discrimination at work.3 Furthermore, 33% feel that the Christian faith is portrayed on the media in a way which is discriminatory. The BBC article quotes Rev Malcolm Duncan, of the campaign group Faithworks, saying: “The Christian church is suffering more than all other faiths in the UK. There is an aggressive secularist agenda that says it's OK to support any group ending in 'ism', but it's not OK to support anything connected to Christianity.” The BBC also report that churches are beginning to complain that “the Christian values which underpin law-making in Britain are being eroded.”4
Nowhere is this issue of the undermining of Christian values in lawmaking seen more clearly than in the so-called “gay agenda.” In September 2006, evangelical speaker, Stephen Green, was arrested in Cardiff, for peacefully giving out leaflets at the entrance to a gay rally. The words deemed offensive by the arresting police officer (from the “Minorities Support Unit”) were all quotations from the Bible. Melanie Phillips opines: ”The Bible is the moral code that underpins our civilisation. Yet the logic of the police action against Mr Green surely leads ultimately to the inescapable conclusion that the Bible itself is ‘hate speech’ and must be banned.”5
In June 2006, nine firemen were ordered to take part in a “gay pride” march in Glasgow, as part of the fire service’s safety awareness campaign. Because they refused to take part (though they agreed to hand out leaflets), they were disciplined and the crew manager was demoted, losing £5000 salary. They were all ordered to attend a “diversity awareness” training course.
Less well reported is the fact that an increasing number of Christian voluntary groups are finding funding from local authorities being dropped, due to the opinion that a Christian organisation must, by definition, be opposed to “diversity.”
Where this impinges on our ministry is in the cases where our views are not heard, but ridiculed. We find schools that host meetings with creationists put under pressure to reverse their decisions. We find prominent academics, who are creationists, such as Professor Andy McIntosh (who is one of our associate speakers), treated with an appalling and disgraceful lack of respect, merely for pointing out that his own area of expertise is problematic for those who believe in evolution.6 See also the vitriol posted in comments to my own columns on the website of the Christian radio station, Crossrhythms.7
Don’t get me wrong—this is all pretty trivial, compared with being burned at the stake. I am big enough and ugly enough to stand being ridiculed. Slightly more worrying are the circumstantial reports of people, such as Christian obstetricians concerned that their career paths are blocked, because they take a biblical stand on abortion.
Such reports of discrimination obviously do not yet amount to the need for the compilation of a Foxe’s Book of 21st Century Martyrs. But where will it end? Have we seen the start of a trend that will lead ultimately to British Christians once again paying with their lives for their faith? Am I being melodramatic even to ask the question? What is certainly not in doubt is that British Christians need your prayers, and we, in AiG–UK, would particularly value your prayers, that those who would silence the Gospel message in the UK may be thwarted and that the word of God might be proclaimed freely and powerfully throughout this land.