Recently I wrote about the theme song to the Not Ashamed Campaign run by Christian Concern For Our Nation. They have recently re-branded as Christian Concern which is a trading name of CCFON.
In the post I said some touchy things about the quality of the song and the fact that I am ashamed of a Christian subculture which is reflected by that song. Through the subsequent debate on both Facebook and at the end of the blog post I realize there is a lot of confusion out there about how the branding of the product on offer in the campaign is being seen by various audiences. For many the brand “Not Ashamed” meant different things, depending on a number of factors. I initially proposed to write a pros and cons analysis of the campaign. I think in general I will stick to that format, but because the campaign means different things to different people the pros and cons will be “problematised” from the perspective of different audiences. Before all that however, I will tell the story how I see it.
Who is Not Ashamed? And how did it all happen?
The campaign as I see it is an initiative started by CCFON (now CC) in the late Summer. Ruth Gledhill of the Times documented elements of the launch with her hand held camera. At the time of the initial launch Christian Today reported that the campaign “criticises the discrimination some Christians have experienced in school or the workplace as a result of being open about their beliefs.” In September Andrea Williams said “It is time for the Church to find her voice again. We are praying that this campaign will do just that by igniting a flame in Christians such that they find their voice and place in public life.”
Flanked by people who the Christian Legal Centre had represented in legal cases the message I got from the head of CC was clear. Increasingly the law is discriminating against Christians because of their faith. We need to do something. This is what CC are doing, why not join in.
Then as part of the campaign on the 1st of December former ++ Lord Carey released a pamphlet that outlined his opinion that Christianity was being “airbrushed” out of British public life. In the pamphlet he mentions the Christian heritage of the UK and makes some rather romantic comments about its history. Its tone is somewhat patriotic and overall its is fairly positive. Many will disagree with this conclusions. Moreover, some might not understand that his is not the only legitimate political theology because they have not thought about their own political theology or understand that there is more than one way for Christians to be engaged “in the political.”
Other public figures who endorsed or even spearheaded the NAC are the former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, Alan Craig of Christian Peoples Alliance fame who ran for the London mayorship, and finally “those who have suffered,” namely the people who have been represented by CLC.
But who is “Not Ashamed?” I think the ownership of the campaign is not only limited to the organisers but also has a public profile. These are the people who support the campaign and what it stands for. Their perspective of what they are signing up to might vary depending on how they view the issues, and how they rank them in importance. The campaigns public profile will also be shaped by its audience. They are either a lay audience (the people in your office) or a professional audience (journos, and politicians).
What does the public profile sound like to a supporter? Or What are supporters “not ashamed” about?
I think the campaign majors on three things. The human rights conflicts within different strands of human rights law, the re-branding of Christmas into a secular holiday (and all the associated baggage that goes with that) and the message that Jesus is Lord.
If like me you have a campaign background in Westminster and you are aware of the changes in legislation about the conflicts between various human rights strands in UK legislation, then you will think the campaign is largely focused on this narrow issue. Because of the work of organizations like Christian Institute and CC many people know there is a significant push to prioritize sexual orientation over religious freedom in human rights legislation (at Westminster and in the EU). Most of the recent cases where the CC have been involved relate to Christian practice in some way conflicting with the rights of homosexuals in service provision (adoption and civil partnerships come to mind).
Hence Not Ashamed needs to be seen as a blip within the broader context of a debate about human rights. What needs to be remembered here is that each case needs to be taken on its own merits. The danger with an overarching campaign like this one is that the specifics of a court case loose significance in the grander scheme of things. More of that later.
If you are a reader of the Daily Mail, then it is very likely that you are worried about councils ending Christmas because –as the secularist red herring goes, it might offend people of other faiths. At the same time councils seem to be promoting other faith groups festive holidays under the guise of multiculturalism. You might feel a bit hard done by and see this as a threat not only of secularisation but also of multiculturalism which you feel ambivalent about. You might even be slightly afraid of this shift which has more to do with culture than Christian values per se (but that’s another discussion). You see all this as a threat to what you call our Christian heritage. So for somebody like that the issue around Not Ashamed (and this is why it was linked to and launched at Advent) might be that you feel the foundations of the Christian faith being eroded in the UK. However this erosion is rather ill-defined.
There is a third group of people I would call proud Evangelicals. That is a group of people who see the priority of the message of Jesus Christ saving mankind from sin as the most important part of their faith. These people will wear the product because they are not ashamed of the good news of Jesus, and the impact of his work on all of creation, including on the national legislature.
Anybody who is involved with NAC will have at least two of the three issues on their mind but my hunch is the main motive behind supporting the campaign will be one more than the others. This creates for the possibility of misunderstanding when the campaign is criticised from a different perspectives.
Please note, there are also various reasons why one might want to object to the campaign. These will be dealt with later. However, the point about the audience of the campaign is crucial. Who are they and what are they hearing? These are the colleagues who will see the wrist band, or t-shirt. The truth is most will not know what the campaign is about. However, some will and could be confused because of the tripartite message of the campaign and how CC have linked three separate issues to garner broader support for the organization and its lobby activity. What does this possible confusion mean for the gospel? Lets leave that one hanging for the time being.
But back to the time-line: Between the two launches (summer and Advent), the NAC was all about getting momentum, asking people to buy the arm bands, t-shirts and finding church support and people to sign the Not Ashamed deceleration. To date it has just over 15k which is surprising since CC boast a mailing list of 27K.
So what does Not Ashamed really stand for?
Though many people have focused on Lord Carey’s pamphlet, what CC are calling the Declaration of Hope is perhaps a better guide and straightforward summary of what the framers of the campaign think its about.
Please note, its important to distinguish what the campaign is about (as in what it says publicly about itself), from what it will be used for. The CC have sought to gain support initially from Christians turning that into “ammunition” which was used to foster public debate in the press to have leverage over Government. That is the first part of the end goal for CC. The two secondary parts are to sell the products that CC have produced and help people feel encouraged, even proud about being a Christian in the UK.
The Declaration is called a declaration of Christian Hope for our Nation and is as follows:
WE BELIEVE that Jesus Christ is good news for our nation. He is the only true hope and solid foundation for our society.
WE CALL on government, employers and other leaders in our country to protect the freedom of Christians to participate in public life without compromising biblical teaching and to promote in our society the values that are revealed through Jesus Christ and that have so shaped our nation, for the good of all.
So the campaign has two elements to it. The first is that those who sign up are not ashamed of Jesus (and interestingly the Gospel broadly framed), but it doesn’t say anything about Christians or Christianity. This is a significant difference. The second part is the “Call”. This is less straight forward. The questions in my mind are threefold. Whose “biblical teaching”? What are the “values that are revealed through Jesus Christ”? Finally, what does “have so shaped our nation, for the good of all” mean?
The benefit of the broad brush stroke definition allows many people to join in who might have different ideas about how “biblical teaching” should be applied to our society. In that sense the campaign borrows from the very successful form of campaigning that Barack Obama engaged in by using the very vague notion of “hope” as his campaign slogan. Hope can be many things to many people…
All of these parts of the second aspect of the declaration are different to different people. Furthermore the word “hope” seems thrown into the mix without much clarity. Again this relates to a rather romantic and idealistic view of the role of faith in our country, but one which nevertheless can be garnered, quite effectively for support of a cause.
Now to the Pros
First the campaign was excellently executed. Perhaps the only thing I would have changed was the slogan of the campaign which could have been defined positively and not the negative of “ashamed”. “Proud” or “pride” doesn’t really work.
What ever you think of the slogan or the content of the declaration or indeed Lord Carey’s pamphlet, it is fair to say that the website and the “trinketry” (the wrist bands etc), are very well designed. The colour, font and design of the website is contemporary and by any standard deserves a mention of merit.
Second the campaign time line was executed almost without fault. The pre-campaign stage in which it was launched to the Christian audience in September came after the Popes visit to the UK in which he talked about Christians being sidelined in public life. The main aim of the September event was to launch the website and declaration and communicate to Church leaders, and influential Christians that it had started. The first press release may have gone out to the wider media, but only the Christian press really picked up on it.
Then the second part of the campaign, the more public facing side, was launched on December 1st with Lord Carey’s booklet and statements being the big press draw. With regard to the national press the NAC was a success. The BBC reported on it, whilst a number of of commentators picked it up (and where critical of it). The blogosphere was ablaze with posts. That’s a good result as campaigns of this size go.
The only unfortunate aspect of the campaign in this regard was the launch date, which coincided with the first day of December, World AIDS Day. Ekklesia rather cynically pointed this out. I think no intent to link AIDS and homosexuality was attempted by CC, despite the fact that most of the recent CLC where around conflicts between Christians and discrimination in service provision for gays. But its a bit of a shame that the day we chose to be rather self-serving about our faith is also the day in which we should be remembering the people who are really suffering of the nasty and debilitating disease.
Thirdly, the message that Christians should not be ashamed of what they believe and that they should be allowed to act out those beliefs is an important one. The campaign goes some way to do this.
Without thinking much about it, when my Pastor asked me what I thought of the campaign I said that I thought it was rather well designed and that while I would not be supporting the campaign (for personal reasons), I did not see why he should not plug it to the church. Subsequently he posted a piece about it on his blog. I don’t want the following to be a contradiction to his blog post, and I don’t necessarily agree with all the criticisms of the campaign which I will offer here. I only wish I would have thought this through when he asked me what I thought about the NAC.
The NAC aims are laudable in all three points mentioned above. The debate about the different strands of human rights law and their conflict has not been finalised and some Christians have thus-far lost out. For those people for whom room was not created to live their faith out without compromising their conscience, the law has failed and that is a sad thing. But the campaign misses a trick.
The erosion of liberty in this country is an issue that touches more people than just Christians and goes back to first principles and relates to the constitution. Ed West points that out well on his blog over at the Telegraph. Rather, the issue above is about liberty and freedom of self definition from the state. The very notion that Christians should have special rights because they are Christians is already conceding a huge part of the argument around human rights law and the individuals rights, and by extension the right of association and the right of religious association in particular to define itself over and above the state. It is central to liberty. So in that sense the vision of the campaign does not go far enough.
But why does it focus on Christians only? I think, and I am speaking from the gut here, that the CC and Lord Carey (knowingly or unknowingly) have an understanding of church/state relations which is broadly Constantinian. This means that they see the role of Christianity, and particularly a type of protestant Christianity as deserving a special place in guiding the moral climate of the UK and in particular in the legislature. Their work fits the narrative of wanting to be a “Christian nation”, language which has been used by the CC and which I find problematic. I have said before that I do not really know what that term means, but I will say now that I am very weary of it. Or let me be more robust. There is no such thing as a Christian Nation, at least not one which is demarcated by nation state boundaries.
A further reason why the campaign could be criticised is that it is based on fear. Christian Concern have made strides away from used scaremongering as a tool to promote the urgency of their work, such as in the headlines of their other campaign literature. So while the campaign in general has a positive feel (a good thing), it could be argued that it is actually based on a profoundly negative message which both stems from and encourages a latent fear of persecution (very bad).
While the campaign does not use that term persecution per se (as pointed out by Church Mouse), Michael Nazir-Ali and a number of the people represented by CLC over their claims, used the word “persecution” publicly in campaign videos and on 4thought.tv short message blurbs for Channel 4 (excellent by the way).
Using the word “persecution” is misleading. While one might not think it fair that the law require a Christian sex and relationship councillor to council a gay couple on their sex life, it is also true that the councillor can go and do something else and is free to do so. That was certainly not the case for Roman Catholics who were prohibited from living in London, or be Members of Parliament back in the day. This is just one example that contradicts the romantic memory of a “Christian nation.” To her credit Andrea Williams did not use the word persecution in her 4thought.tv interview.
While I agree with Mouse that we need to be factual about what the campaign actually is about, both the lay and the professional audience will slot the campaign in nicely with the “persecution complex” because of the people who are involved in the campaign and because CC is running it.
Because the latent fear (justifiable or not) which is met in many circles with a ferocious and sometimes prideful promise ‘not to stop preaching the word of God as it is written in the bible’ (promises I think are important), and because the narrative around having to be “proud” (that’s really what this campaign is about), there might be a loss of perspective with regards to how much freedom we actually have. This then leads me to ask how much freedom we actually need? Does the bible says we are to expect that freedom?In case you are wondering, it doesn’t. That’s not to say we should not strive for it, but should be be engaged in special pleading?
Ekklesia, the NSS and the BHA are always ready to complain about the special privilege that Anglicanism (and by extension Christianity) has in this country. While I disagree with their assessment, there is a sense in which Christians are very free. How could Theos, Tearfund, CAFOD, or a range of Anglican and Catholic faith schools or even Christian Concern operate if that freedom did not exist?
Not only that, but how can they have a place at the negotiation table with Government, which they do. The point to take away from this is that Christians are treated very well in this country, we also have many privileges which we use responsibly. Moreover, there are more levels to this debate. In some areas the tide is turning.
I was in a meeting with a government Minister recently who said that he would be more than happy to consider “moral arguments.” Meaning that he would be happy for me to use theological language to talk about a problem in policy. You would not have got that from most people in Thatcher’s government and probably not from New Labour.
Another criticisms of the campaign is that it also shows that we are “proud” to be Christians. Again it isnt a word used explicitly, but because NAC is about demarcating oneself as being “Christian” (at least in the lay and professional audiences minds) it shows a willingness to engage in an “us” and “them” mentality. As if being a Christian made you somehow more special than a non-Christian. You might be “saved by the blood of the lamb” but you are still one of the reason the blood had to be spilled in the first place. This point might be a bit unfair, but bear in mind who the audience is, particularly if they are gay and you want to turn them away from your guest house on a cold winters night. Ok, I’m bringing out the emotional fiddle here, but turn the table a bit. This story might serve to illustrate what I am getting at:
One of my teachers, a theology professor and teacher of apologetics asked his students what they had done to proclaim the gospel that week. One of his students who worked part time in a super market at the cash desk said that she had asked her co-worker to put away the romantic novel that she was reading because it offended her and made her uncomfortable. The teacher said, ok, let me know what happens next week. The following week the student came back to the classroom and was rather ashamed. She said that her co-worker asked her to stop reading her bible at the till because it offended her and made her feel uncomfortable.
So what does it mean to be a christian in relation to the Gospel? How are the two are related to this campaign. Are we creating hurdles to the spread of the gospel when we wear these particular trinkets? I think if we are wearing the trincketry mostly because we want to show others that we are Christians then we need to think a bit harder about what the whole package means in relation to how the “audience” might receive the message of the campaign. If the audience is hearing that Jesus has a “hopeful message” that is to allow Christians the freedom to discriminate against gay people, then somebody has lost the plot in a major way. And that is how Christians of the CC ilk are seen by the gay community. Just listen to Peter Tatchell on this. That is not the message of a Christ follower or a man of God. The above message of hope is something different.
Previously I mentioned earlier that Andrea Williams said about the campaign that: “It is time for the Church to find her voice again. We are praying that this campaign will achieve just that by igniting a flame in Christians such that they find their voice and place in public life.”
This is an insult to organizations and people who have a voice and use it. It is insulting to people who have been involved in lobbying government on the above issues quietly. It is insulting to people who work on other issues the Church cares about, whether that be poverty, international development, abuse of women, abortion or any number of issues where the Church has been more than vocal. It also assumes that Christians don’t already have “a flame” burning in them about the same issues that she cares about.
Finally, a point of comparison is perhaps in order. There is short-termism and then there is the long game. Any campaigner worth their salt is going to tell you that most if not all things are about the long game. It took lifetimes to abolish the slave trade. This long game started a while ago. But more modern examples are around. The positive work of Theos embodies what aspects of the deceleration of hope for our nation is about, but they do this without the baggage of a political theology which at the best of times is riddled with theological problems and at the worst of times is internally inconsistent.
I mean look at Theos’ latest report on Christianity and education. Furthermore the work and influence of Tim Montgomery, founder of the Christian Conservative Fellowship should also not be forgotten. The Centre for Social Justice lead by Iain Duncan-Smith is credible. The other parties also have associations which sponsor and cosponsor events in Parliament. We should also remember the work of the Bible Society through SUSA. London Citizens is a further example of good work done by Christians in co-belligerence with others. There are many others that are doing effective work. All of these organizations are playing a long game. They have a message of hope and produce light without unnecessary heat.
Yes its great that there are organizations out there that are willing to be the voice of the church in the public square. This is absolutely right. Its also right that there are Christian lawyers who are willing to represent Christians who have lost out because the people in their workplace have not ensured that they do not have to behave in a way that contradicts their conscience.
But, lets keep some perspective about the role of Christianity in public life. There are limits the the amount of freedom we can expect in a plural society. That does not mean that we need to be ashamed of who we are and what our beliefs are about, but it does mean we face challenges which need to be overcome by creativity, hard work and faithfulness to Jesus.
Finally, lets not confuse the message of the Gospel with how the gospel shapes society.