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Artillery Row

Against anti-Christian bias

Christians are being singled out for hostility

A prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats is taking legal action against his local association for “bullying and harassment” on the basis of his religious beliefs. Professing Christian David Campanale, who left a successful career as a journalist at the BBC World Service to enter politics, told the Mail on Sunday that he has been “humiliated, ostracised and punished” by party members who were conspiring to have him de-selected as candidate for Sutton and Cheam, in South London.

Intolerance against Christians isn’t exclusive to one party

Mr Campanale alleges that he was branded a “Christian nutter” for saying he would vote with his conscience on abortion. Another party official allegedly told him that former Lib Dem leaders who identified as Christians, Shirley Williams and Charles Kennedy, are “dead” and “in the past”. The solicitor representing Mr Campanale said the treatment he “has suffered from the Liberal Democrats at Sutton and Cheam is not only shocking, it is the canary in the mine for liberal democracy”. 

The full, disturbing details of his treatment are laid out in an interview Mr Campanale did with Premier Christianity magazine. He alleges: “I was summoned to the home of the honorary president, where I was told I was going to have a discussion about my private beliefs. I was asked beforehand, “Are you ready for the Spanish Inquisition?” There were 30 people there, and I was led to a chair in the bay window. I was then subjected to a two hour interrogation about my Christian views.” 

Campanale adds:

Whilst I was there, people were mocking me saying, “I suppose you think you’re being persecuted, like Jesus was?” One person said “you’re a liar”, because I didn’t disclose my Christian beliefs … This group of people have said, “we do not accept your right to a conscience” — they told me that to my face. One even said, “You’ve pulled the wool over our eyes. If I’d known about your Christian beliefs, I would never have agreed for you to be shortlisted”.

All of this sounds more Soviet Russia than suburban Sutton and Cheam.

Reports of Christians being harangued by the Liberal Democrat Party aren’t a new thing, sadly. The public will recall a similar campaign of intolerance against former leader Tim Farron a few years ago. He was hounded out of office due to his orthodox beliefs about marriage and sexuality. It’s hard to imagine a Muslim, Jewish or Sikh believer who ascribes to exactly the same beliefs about these things being treated in this way, exposing an almighty and sinister double standard.

Of course, intolerance against Christians isn’t exclusive to one party. I know of people involved with the Tory Party, the Labour Party, the Greens and the SNP who also attest to a very difficult culture for Christians. Press reports on politicians show why. They sometimes include odd caveats: such and such a person is an MP and a “born again Christian”. Such and such a person opposes abortion because of their faith. Again, people of other faiths do not receive this type of criticism. It’s targeted.

Wider culture also attests to rising anti-Christian sentiment. A number of high-profile court cases in recent years have involved Christian people being wrongly arrested, dragged to court for refusing to endorse political slogans or fired for not complying with woke diktats. This month, Glasgow City Council was ordered to pay £100k to the son of late evangelist Billy Graham for cancelling his booking at a big venue in the city. In court, it emerged that a Green MSP had urged the cancellation.

As a Christian myself, all of this saddens me. Wherever one stands on faith, I’d hope we can agree that it is wrong. Singling out a certain group for unfair treatment is antithetical to the liberal, democratic ideals our society is supposed to coalesce around. The strength of our democracy is its assertion of key freedoms: free speech and expression, religious freedom, freedom of conscience. When we neglect these things or withhold them for some people, our culture wilts.

Influencers caricature believers as bigots and dinosaurs

It’s also perplexing. Christian beliefs about the world are hardly a new thing. The Christian worldview is foundational in the centuries-long development of the West. As the historian Tom Holland has noted, the water we swim in as a culture is uniquely Christian, regardless of whether we care to admit it. Why is it that modern progressives, who ascribe to beliefs concocted five minutes ago in historical terms, are deemed the normal ones, and Christians steeped in 2000 years of rigorously tested belief are seen as some eccentric aberration?

Intolerance against Christians isn’t only unjust. It’s counterproductive. It is an undeniable fact that over the centuries, committed Christian people have contributed a great deal to British culture. The campaign to end the slave trade in the 1700s was led by evangelical believer William Wilberforce. Josephine Butler championed women’s rights and opposed sexual exploitation in the late 19th century. Lord Shaftsbury pressed for seismic social changes benefiting the working class.

Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the voluntary hospice movement in the 20th century, was a Christian. Numerous charitable and philanthropic organisations were founded, and are still operated by, Christian people. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of positive Christian impact over the decades. All these actions were inspired directly by, not in isolation from, personal Christian conviction. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is transformative, and it leads people to live in a radical new way.

In seeking to honour Christ, who laid down his life so that sinful human beings can be forgiven, Christians obey his commands. Among other things, this means loving their neighbours as themselves (Matthew 22:37-39), pursuing justice (Micah 6:8), taking up the cause of the vulnerable and oppressed (Psalm 82:3) and praying for and respecting those in authority (1 Timothy 2:2). To this extent, Christianity encourages good citizenship.

A potential driver of anti-Christian sentiment is religious illiteracy, which has grown as the UK becomes more and more secularised. Influencers who hate the faith also seek to caricature believers as bigots and dinosaurs. This should be challenged. It doesn’t fit with the hundreds of Christians I know in my family and wider circles, who aren’t motivated by hatred in any way. Patient, respectful dialogue between people can aid understanding of Christian beliefs — but it takes two willing parties for it to be successful.

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