By Rev Robert Barthram, May 12 2016 12:22PM
In my letter for the March Grange News I began by quoting someone who had said in a conversation, ‘The most important thing is Jesus’ death and resurrection everything else follows on from that.’ I went onto say briefly why it is, ‘the most important thing.’ I’m sure a very natural and expected subject to read about in a church newsletter in a month that included both Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Going back a few months to Christmas I recall how we often read the opening of John’s Gospel at our carol services. Yesterday I happened to be reading about those opening words where Jesus is described as the Word. In what I read it said of Jesus, ‘He alone is God come to us. No other can stand alongside him or take his place. The revelation in Jesus Christ is the final revelation.’ Again surely what one would expect to read in a church newsletter.
These are things I believe and have preached now quite a few years but increasingly I now find they set me apart from many in the society in which I live. Several times recently the thought has occurred to me, ‘I don’t fit in with today’s Britain, I am not comfortable here.’ A thought I know some of you have had as well, which you have expressed in conversations with me.
Recently there was a glaring example of why I feel a stranger in the country of my birth. It was reported on the national news how a Christian NHS worker had lost her appeal against suspension. From the Christian broadcaster Premier Radio I found out more details.
They reported how Victoria Wasteney was found guilty by her NHS employer in 2014 of ‘harassing and bullying’ a work friend by giving her a book about a Muslim woman’s encounter with Christianity, praying with her and asking her to church. She was suspended for nine months and given a written warning, even though the woman had been happy to discuss faith with her and never gave evidence about her allegations to the NHS. Ms Wasteney, a senior occupational therapist, challenged the decision by East London NHS Foundation Trust at an employment tribunal last year, but it ruled that her employer had not discriminated against her. Now she has lost an appeal against that decision after a judge dismissed the suggestion the original ruling had not applied the European Convention on Human Rights’ strong protection of freedom of religion and expression.
Following the decision, Ms Wasteney, from Epping, Essex, said: “What the court clearly failed to do was to say how, in today’s politically correct world, any Christian can even enter into a conversation with a fellow employee on the subject of religion and not, potentially, later end up in an employment tribunal.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre which is supporting Ms Wasteney, said:
“Week by week Christians are marginalised, threatened, sidelined, sacked and disciplined simply for holding normal conversations about their faith which is held dear to them.
The United Kingdom has a strong foundation rooted in Christianity which has brought us freedom and flourishing. The NHS and our Education System were started by Christians - motivated by their faith. Our legal system was founded on Christian values and yet we now see that it is one of the most liberal and anti-Christian legal systems in the Western world.
This is ironic given that it is Christianity that has given our society freedom, tolerance and hospitality.”
We shouldn’t be surprised that what is natural and expected in a church newsletter may be alien in today’s world as it was in the first century and can even meet hostility. For did not the apostle Peter in his letter describe us as, ‘strangers and refugees in the world’ (1 Peter 2:11). Yet he also reminds us we have, ‘a living hope’ (1:3) because of the resurrection and how we should whatever the circumstances give an:
“account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (3:15).
With best wishes,