Cristina Odone

Journalist, novelist and broadcaster

Notebook: it’s a brave soul who admits to being Christian

October 24, 2011 @ 6:40 am

Adrian Smith was reprimanded for calling gay marriage in church an equality too far

Adrian Smith was reprimanded for calling gay marriage in church "an equality too far"

The eight-year-old and I have been working through H E Marshall’s Our Island Story. A little snippet from chapter 75 caught my eye: “The Puritans felt that in England they could not worship God in what seemed to them the right way. So although they loved their country they resolved to leave it and sail away.” An apt story, given the latest row over religious freedom. Adrian Smith, a Christian, has been found guilty of “gross misconduct” for expressing the view that gay weddings in churches was an “equality too far”. Mr Smith’s employers, a housing association funded with taxpayers’ money, has demoted him, and slashed his salary — even though he expressed his religious beliefs on a private Facebook page that the general public cannot access. Tolerance, once again, provides the tension in our island story.

Nonconformists more than 400 years ago found that they could not express their beliefs in a country where the established Church brooked no argument. Today, the Establishment is made up of secular individualists ready to run nonconformists out of the public space, if not yet out of the country. Expressions of faith, such as wearing a crucifix, get you into trouble. Christian practices are forbidden or discouraged by some of our best-known institutions — the NHS, BA, the BBC. As Mr Smith’s case shows, a dissenting point of view can ruin your professional life even when it is expressed in private.

Today’s persecution of Christians involves none of the burning and nail-pulling Marshall describes with such relish. But try admitting you’re a Christian among the bien-pensants of Highbury or Hampstead: being taken for a cretin, a creationist and a chauvinist is not much better than a spell in the stocks. The nonconformists who sailed on the Mayflower were a tiny minority; but Christians in today’s Britain are the majority. Stop pushing us around.

• I was prepared to discuss religious tolerance in Glasgow last Thursday, on Question Time. I was sure the audience would ask about the Scottish Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage, but it came up only after the programme, when the production team took us out for dinner. I didn’t join in the discussion though, as I was too busy enjoying the sight of David Dimbleby being mobbed by young fans. The first was a blonde who practically climbed on to the presenter’s lap to murmur her appreciation of his “fantastic” talent and “perfect” handling of the panellists. Two unshaven, dishevelled twentysomethings popped up next, asking Dimbleby to follow them back to their tent among the 99%ers protesters. That would look like tacit support for their cause, Dimbleby explained, and BBC impartiality would not allow for that. If the protesters had meant business, they should have sent the blonde instead: a Sienna Miller lookalike is a much better bait than a Swampy wannabe.

• There are plenty of women in Ken Livingstone’s past. The former Mayor of London, it turns out, has fathered several children with several different women. For two of the mothers, it appears he acted as a sperm donor rather than a Lothario — but no one could accuse Mr Livingstone of being impervious to female allure. Ken the politician may be a bully, but Ken the man has oodles of charm. A friend, on her way home from a party conference, found herself in a deserted train carriage with Ken. They traded impressions about speeches. Then, without missing a beat, Ken made a suggestion that might be politely described as both blunt and pointed. She told him to buzz off. Instead of looking hurt, Ken continued to regale her with funny anecdotes and self-deprecating witticisms. By the time they reached London, my friend felt she was in the wrong. That’s what I call disarming tactics.

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