Lunch-time debate: Are Christians the UK’s New ‘Marginalised Minority’?
Tuesday 5 October 2010
It was a full house at the Woolf Institute’s debate on Tuesday 5th October as over 75 people packed into the Michaelhouse chancel to attend a discussion asking, ‘Are Christians the UK’s New Marginalised Minority?’
With Rev Dr John Binns, Vicar of Great St Mary's, Cambridge and Honorary Canon of Ely Cathedral; Dr Edward Kessler, Woolf Institute; Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and Director of the Christian Legal Centre; David Pollock, President of the European Humanist Federation and trustee of the British Humanist Association; and Ziauddin Sardar, writer, broadcaster and cultural critic.
Views were expressed from the full range of the spectrum in what was a frank and lively discussion. European President of the Humanist Federation David Pollock described it as ‘scarcely credible that Christianity is marginalised given its role 26 parliamentary seats, control of 1 in 3 state schools and privileges in religious broadcasting’. He claimed an increase in secularism in the public realm would eventually create a ‘neutral state’, a position challenged by writer, broadcaster and world-leading authority on Islam, Professor Ziauddin Sardar. Professor Sardar talked about a society which ‘ridicules religion’ and described many Christians as feeling ‘shame and guilt’ and an unwillingness to publicly declare themselves to be Christian as a result. He argued that this is the reason so many people describe themselves as Christians on the census but do not attend formal worship services.
Andrea Williams, Director of the Christian Legal Centre, which seeks to ‘defend the right of Christians to speak biblical truths in the public sphere’, was not ashamed to declare her Christian views, her objection to a ‘modern aggressive secularism’ and to a ‘state enforced morality’ which ‘reacts disproportionately to anyone who voices a criticism of it’. She described the large numbers of people seeking her help for cases of discrimination against them due to their expressions of Christian views and claimed that the Equality Bill is ‘ironically named’. She argued that Christians are becoming a ‘marginalised majority’, a position she says will have detrimental outcomes for the country. Rev Binns of Great St Mary’s, Cambridge took a more liberal stance arguing that there ‘cannot be an imposing pattern of faith but there must be room for an individual response to God’s call’.
Dr Edward Kessler, founding director of the Woolf Institute, argued that Christianity is becoming a ‘renewed minority’, that it is being ‘caricatured’ and is experiencing the ‘pains of adjustment’. However, he challenged some Christians as having an ‘overly romantic notion of the Christian past of Britain’ and said that ‘all faiths need to look forward and grapple with the modern phenomenon of the multiplicity of identities within their faith’.