Being ‘grown up’ about the ‘persecution’ of Christians

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FACT: 74% of British churchgoers believe there is more negative discrimination against Christians than people of other faiths

Liberated from personal responsibility for holding the Anglican church together, Rowan Williams is showing signs of returning to his roots as a ‘hairy liberal.’ He was claimed that “Christians in Britain and the US who claim that they are persecuted should ‘grow up’ and not exaggerate what amounts to feeling mildly uncomfortable” and contrasted their experience with that of Indian woman who had seen her husband murdered by a mob.

Whether Christianophobia really is a problem is a matter of fierce debate. However, even if we assume it is a genuine issue then there are still good grounds for believing British Christians have a rather exaggerated view of its seriousness.

A Comres poll of churchgoers found that 74% of those surveyed believed that “there is more negative discrimination against Christians than people of other faiths.” To see how overblown this claim is let us look at instances of hate crime.

FACT: Home Office figures on religious hate crimes reported to the police indicate that in just 14% of cases were the victims Christians. In 54% of cases the victims were Muslims and in 26% they were Jewish.

FACT: Scottish government figures suggest that 95% of religiously motivated hate crime in Scotland is targeted at Christians

The Home Office figures are of course about absolute numbers. If we instead look at these figures relative to the number of their adherents then not only Muslims and Jews but also Hindus, Sikhs, Rastafarians, followers of Baha’i and Scientologists are more commonly victims than Christians. In fact, just about the only group less likely than Christians to be victims of a hate crime because of their beliefs are atheists.

Some caveats need to be attached to the Home Office data. It relates only to recorded crimes, it was “retrospectively taken from intelligence and not formal data systems” and is potentially skewed by the fact that “the Jewish third party reporting mechanisms are more robust and long-standing.”

However, these figures would need to be very far out to change the broad picture. Furthermore, the more robust figures collected by the FBI on the situation in the US suggest a similarly low proportion of hate crimes are directed at Christians.   In fact, these figures may actually be overstating the proportion of hate crime directed at Christians: Crimes against Jews and Sikhs may be reported as based on race rather than religion and the figures relate to 2011 so would not account for any uptick of anti-Islamic crime after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

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However, there are parts of the UK where hate crime is predominantly directed at Christians but the perpetrators are not of other faiths or secularists but other Christians. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, hate crime directed by Protestants against Catholics and vica versa occur on a scale that dwarves offences against other communities.

If British Christians want to be ‘grown up’ about the persecution of our faith we should not be railing against our marginalisation by non-Christians. Rather we should be offering help to other faiths in greater danger than ourselves and facing down the sectarian prejudice within our own faith.

Fact Collecting

This blog is an attempt to make a quirk into a hobby. For as long as I can remember I have always been fascinated by facts. For many years growing up my Christmas presents would be a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records and Dorling Kindersley’s Top Ten of Everything. I took great joy in knowing that the Whale Shark was the largest fish, that JFK was the youngest ever President and that Moonraker was – but is no longer – the second highest grossing James Bond film.

While as an adult I am – arguably – less anorakish about accumulating facts, their fascination remains. A single fact can crystallise or confound an argument. They can produce disbelief, anger or mirth.

The internet is hardly devoid of websites alive to the power of facts. There are many fact checking sites but despite their evident value they do not satisfy the true fact aficionado. They treat facts as an antidote to error or deceit. By contrast, this blog is for readers who feel an interesting fact can be its own reward.