Christians in Britain feel forced to hide their faith out of fear of being seen as “intolerant”, “superstitious” and even “accessories to child abuse”, the government Chief Whip has said.
Michael Gove said that such is the hostility to religion in modern Britain that those who use it as a motivation to do good are viewed with suspicion, as if they simply “wanted to look good in the eyes of their deity and earn the religious equivalent of Clubcard points securing entry to Heaven.”
However, writing in the latest edition of the Spectator magazine, the former Education Secretary said that Christianity is really a force for good:
“The reality of Christian mission in today’s churches is a story of thousands of quiet kindnesses. In many of our most disadvantaged communities it is the churches that provide warmth, food, friendship and support for individuals who have fallen on the worst of times. The homeless, those in the grip of alcoholism or drug addiction, individuals with undiagnosed mental health problems and those overwhelmed by multiple crises are all helped — in innumerable ways — by Christians.”
He also said that his own faith makes him realised how “flawed and fallible” he is, conceding: “I am selfish, lazy, greedy, hypocritical, confused, self-deceiving, impatient and weak. And that’s just on a good day.
“As the Book of Common Prayer puts it, ‘We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts … And there is no health in us’.”
Gove added that during his time as Education Secretary he came to realise the strength of hostility towards people of faith:
“One of the saddest moments during my time as Education Secretary was the day I took a call from a wonderfully generous philanthropist who had devoted limitless time and money to helping educate disadvantaged children in some of the most challenging areas of Britain but who now felt he had no option but to step away from his commitments because his evangelical Christianity meant that he, and his generosity, were under constant attack.”
Far from being a source of ignorance and oppression, however, Christianity is actually the source of modern Western liberalism, Mr Gove said:
“In pre-Christian times, moral reasoning and full human potential were assumed to be restricted to an elite… Christianity, by contrast, like Judaism before it, gives every individual the dignity of a soul, the capacity to reason, the right to be heard and equality before the law. Because every individual is — in the image of God — capable of moral judgment, reflection and responsibility.”
Gove’s article is the most vehement defence of religion from a politician so far during Britain’s current election campaign.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote an article for Premier Christianity where he said he was an “unapologetic supporter of faith” in public life, adding:
“It’s the principle around which the Easter celebration is built. Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children. And today, that message matters more than ever.”
His comments received criticism, however, with the Catholic Herald describing them as “bizarre” and saying they show “he’s scared of proclaiming his Christianity”.
“To be quite frank, a Cameron rendition of Abba’s I Believe in Angels, would have contained more theological conviction than this embarrassing attempt at an Easter message,” the magazine wrote.