Some sections of British evangelical Christianity feel increasingly beleaguered in the face of what they perceive as the progressive marginalization of their faith, at the hands of the law, the media, government and employers.
Christian Concern is one organization seeking to redress the balance, underpinned by its e-mail subscription base of 27,000 supporters. On 1 December it formally launched its ‘Not Ashamed’ campaign, encouraging Christians to live out their faith in public.
Through its sister agency, the Christian Legal Centre, it has dealt with several high-profile cases on religious freedom, abortion and marriage and the family, defending Christians ‘who have stood for their beliefs and suffered the consequences’.
To coincide with the inauguration of ‘Not Ashamed’, Christian Concern commissioned ComRes to undertake a telephone survey into the public’s attitudes to the rights of Christians. Interviews were conducted with 1,006 adult Britons aged 18 and over on 26-29 November 2010.
Headline findings from the survey are contained in two press releases issued by Christian Concern on 5 and 20 December, which also provide useful background notes on the six legal cases which have informed the questions asked in the poll.
These press releases can be found at:
The full data tables are at:
The sample was evenly divided on the extent to which Britain can still be described as a Christian country, 50% thinking it can and 47% that it cannot. This represents a big shift since the NOP/New Society poll in March 1965, when the figures were 80% and 19% respectively.
The over-65s (66%) and Scots (57%) were among those most likely to consider Britain to be a Christian country. Dissentients were especially concentrated among the 18-24s (68%) and the C1 social group (54%).
In an implicit reference to the Shirley Chaplin vs Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust case, 73% of the whole sample (and 82% of the over-65s) agreed that people should have the legal right to wear Christian symbols such as a cross in their workplace. 24% disagreed, including 38% of 18-24s.
87% disagreed that health care workers should be threatened with the sack for offering to pray with patients, a question apparently prompted by the analogous cases of Olive Jones and Duke Amachree. Only 11% agreed with the proposition.
Opinion again split on the issue of whether would-be foster carers who hold that homosexual activity is morally wrong should be banned from fostering (an allusion to the case of Owen and Eunice Johns vs Derby City Council). 40% of respondents thought such foster carers should be banned, while 54% disagreed.
In a more summative question, 72% agreed that Christians should be able to refuse to act against their conscience without being penalized by their employer, with 22% in disagreement (including 31% of 18-24s).
Rather playing the Islamophobic card, 56% backed the statement that Muslims often enjoy greater freedom of speech and action than Christians in Britain today, the proportion reaching three-fifths among the over-55s, manual workers, Northerners and Scots. 36% disagreed, increasing to 48% of the 18-24s.
Christian Concern has glossed the survey as showing that ‘draconian and politically correct rules which discriminate against Christians living out their faith in the public square have been slammed by the public …’ And it reminded the Coalition Government of their reliance upon churches and Christian organizations to help deliver the Big Society.
In reality, this possibly over-interprets the poll findings, some of which could be read as delivering more mixed messages from the public about the importance of maintaining a Christian presence in the nation.
In particular, the youngest age cohorts seem to be more sceptical on this matter than others, reflecting the fact that, in separate investigations, they were least likely to profess Christianity or any religion (the Christian Concern survey did not enquire into religious affiliation).
Moreover, such support for the Christian viewpoint as was registered in this poll might have been qualified had the questions been put in a somewhat broader context, for example pitching the freedom of some Christians against equal opportunities for society as a whole.