“I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
So said Voltaire in the eighteenth century, and since that time it has become one of the most quoted tenets of Western society. Until now, that is. And unless you happen to be Christian. In the last few weeks there have been at least three arrests of street preachers (one of them twice), because they had the temerity to read aloud passages from the Bible condemning homosexuality. Even more shockingly, in Germany a family who had opted for home schooling had their children removed into state care after it was discovered they had committed the cardinal sin of indoctrinating them with Christian values.
And all this, we are told, because as a society we are protecting freedoms and equality.
It doesn’t feel very equal to me. In fact it feels to me as if Christians are increasingly becoming the victims of secularising intimidation and bullying, which frighteningly is now receiving state sanction.
But I would suggest it’s even worse. Last weekend, as we were all reeling in shock from the terrorist attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, 350 Christian worshippers, emerging from morning worship in Peshawar, fell victim to two Islamic suicide bombers. Eighty died, and two hundred were seriously wounded. On any scale, this was worse than the casualty rate in Nairobi (currently put at 67 fatalities), yet where was the world’s moral outrage and outcry? How much coverage did it get in the Press?
The inescapable inference is that if Christians are to be massacred or persecuted it doesn’t really matter. It’s open season.
But coming back to the UK – where of course we have it so good, because we so highly prize justice and freedom – why does the democratic right to freedom of speech apparently extend only to those who deny Christian values?
Voltaire had another axiom apart from the above, largely ignored today, but equally insightful:
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
So to test the limits of democratic freedom in our much vaunted liberal society, I would like to make a suggestion. Why don’t we set aside a designated day and all of us take to the streets with our Bibles. Let’s find an appropriate street corner in some busy shopping centre and start to read aloud … from Leviticus, or Romans, or any appropriate passage relating to marriage that takes your fancy. And perhaps some might even feel led to add an appropriate word of encouragement or exhortation; about God’s love and redemption from sin. We could call it something like, ‘National Scripture Day’, ‘Defending Belief’, or ‘Standing on our Freedoms.’
Let’s see how many get arrested, and let’s see if the national press take note.