Being Christian in the Public Square

Anna discusses some of the challenges faced by Christians in living faithfully in contemporary western culture.

Germany chancellor Angela Merkel
Germany chancellor Angela Merkel

A few weeks ago saw a rather historic election in Germany. Although Angela Merkel won another four more years as chancellor, and will continue to command the stage in Germany, this was her party’s worst performance with her as leader, with the CDU losing 65 seats.

The election also saw a great shift in Germany’s political scene, with the nationalist and populist Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) winning 12.6% of the vote and gaining 94 seats in the Parliament.

During a recent TV interview, Beatrix von Storch, AfD’s deputy chair, asserted that the party believed that “Islam does not belong to Germany” and that burkas, minarets and the Muslim call to prayer should all be banned. I’m not going to go much further into German politics, but what I did notice was that Beatrice von Storch spoke of preserving Germany and its Christian identity, and that she was wearing an obvious crucifix necklace.

Personally, these rather extreme views and opinions on migration and Islam did not seem to piece together with my own Christian values of tolerance and acceptance, and led me to consider further what role religion, in particular Christianity, and Christian politicians should play in politics, if any at all.

Jacob Rees-Mogg

If you’ve been keeping an eye on British politics on social media recently, you may have noticed the increasing popularity of a certain Jacob Rees-Mogg, leading to the use of #Moggmentum.

Rees-Mogg is a Conservative politician, educated at Eton and Trinity College, Oxford, who was first elected as an MP for North East Somerset in 2010. He is often noted for his humorous parliamentary speeches, and his traditionalist views. Rees-Mogg is in fact a practising Roman Catholic, and this is where lots of the social media flurry seems to have stemmed from.

To be fair, I’m not sure how anyone, let alone a high-profile politician, could publicly announce that they had named their sixth child Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher Rees-Mogg and hope to get away completed unscathed by Twitter.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, his wife and six children
Jacob Rees-Mogg, his wife and six children

Aside from this, Rees-Mogg also holds strong views on “same-sex marriage” and abortion. Regarding the former, Rees-Mogg has stated that he is opposed to it and “not proud” of it being legal as it does not align with his faith. He also added that “marriage is a sacrament and the decision of what is a sacrament lies with the Church, not with the Parliament.”

As for matters of abortion, Rees-Mogg sticks to the Catholic teachings, and states “Life is sacrosanct and begins at the point of conception.” He asserts that although in his view abortion is “morally indefensible”, his views would not intervene in the democratic interests of the British people, and that his opinions were kept separate to the politics.

Up until this summer, Rees-Mogg was doing pretty well keeping under the radar. However, over the summer he was unofficially polled as the second most popular choice to succeed Theresa May, despite not even being listed as one of the options on the Conservative Party homepage.

Following these rumours and reports, there were several articles arguing that Rees-Mogg’s views were old fashioned and that there was no space for such people in our modern British society, and that people such as Jacob Rees-Mogg should have no power to shape national debate and move the country forward.

I’m not trying to point out whether or not Rees-Mogg should or shouldn’t run for Tory leader, but rather the fact that as soon as someone had voiced their religious views in the public sphere, the media reacted immediately, and very angrily too.

Writing in the Guardian, Suzanne Moore called Rees-Mogg a “thoroughly modern, neoconservative bigot”, adding that his Catholic views have “no place in public life”. “As usual, Rees-Mogg’s religious faith is used to excuse his appalling bigotry”, she said. “He is a Catholic and this kind of fundamentalism is always anti-women, but for some reason we are to respect it. I don’t. It has no place in public life.”

The Times' shameful anti-Christian cartoon
The Times’ shameful anti-Christian cartoon

A few days later, a cartoon was published in the Times, insinuating that someone who holds the views so explicitly shown in the cartoon has no right at all to lead a political party. Gavin Ashenden, a former chaplain to the Queen, accused the paper of “deliberately sending the message that Christian ethical views have no place in the public and political forum and should be ridiculed and excluded.” He added too, “It is a matter of some profound regret that the Times should lend its weight and influence to de-legitimise Christian belief and undermine free speech.”

The main issue here is that, in our multicultural and supposedly tolerant, accepting British society, national newspapers think it is acceptable to not just almost demonise Christian values, but also claim that there is no place in society for them, even though much of our society was originally founded from Christian values.

Tim Farron

The same questions asked of Jacob Rees-Mogg are along the same lines of those asked earlier this year of Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader – who led the party from July 2015 to July 2017.

Former Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron
Former Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron

Farron is an Evangelical Christian, and his wavering on many social issues was rather unconvincing. He believed his faith precluded him from endorsing positions demanded of him by his party’s policies and his public role. Ultimately, Mr Farron found this personal conflict too hard to tolerate. His resignation followed that of his Home Affairs spokesman Lord Paddick over Farron’s view of “same-sex marriage”. Lord Paddick, formerly one of the country’s most senior policemen who experiences same-sex attraction, said he felt unable to continue in his role because of Farron’s views on “various issues”. Mr Farron later disclosed that he was “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.”

Students for Life

You might remember the Women’s March in Washington DC, held shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration earlier this year. The march was sold as “inclusive” and for “all women.”

However, just days before the march, organizers banned Students for Life, a large pro-life student organization, from becoming an official sponsor or marching with the crowds. Official partners of the Women’s March, however, included Planned Parenthood along with other pro-abortion organisations.

Not taking no for an answer, Students for Life nevertheless participated in the march and were threatened and insulted as they did so. Events like these lead us to consider the following – is our modern society really progressing in the direction of free speech, or are we just creating an echo-chamber of what people want to hear, and suppressing those who hold minority, often religious, opinions?

Over my time at school, I can recall many an instance where I’ve been in a class, or even just with my friends, and someone will bring up their attitudes towards certain social issues that are the complete opposite to mine. If this is sounding vaguely familiar to you, then you will know there are two options.

The first option is to keep quiet and just nod along thinking you probably should say something but don’t know exactly what, and that the last thing you want to do is to cause an argument and end up socially ostracized.

The second option is to speak up when nobody is even expecting you to, and tell them what you really think. In our modern society it’s becoming increasingly important to share your views, and you don’t even have to be aggressive or assertive to do so; sometimes a quiet comment will do just fine.

Take heart in the fact that you’re not alone, remember Colossians 4:6, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders… Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”, and keep standing up for what you believe in – you’ve got this.