Majority belief or persecuted pariahs? Christians need to make up their minds
Mark it on your calendar – it appears that I’m in agreement with the Coalition for Marriage (C4M) about something. Specifically, that it’s very good news that Adrian Smith has won his case against Trafford Housing Trust after being demoted for expressing a personal view in a personal context. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his position (mostly wrongs, it has to be said), the McCarthyite approach of disciplining people for opinions is dangerous and illiberal.
But that’s where my agreement ends. Strangely, even as they celebrate this victory, they’re claiming it as proof of the dangers of changing the law. Smith won his case, and there’s widespread agreement on both sides that he should never have faced any action against him. But while acknowledging and even celebrating these facts, C4M somehow seem to believe that this demonstrates a genuine risk of persecution for their views.
You can’t have it both ways – either this victory protects the right to hold a personal opinion or it highlights the danger that certain personal views will be regulated and suppressed. To celebrate this victory while scaremongering in this way is like being acquitted in a murder trial on the very reasonable basis that you didn’t do it, then spreading fears that many more innocent people will be not just tried but convicted of murder. They may be right, but there’s no reasonable basis for the claim.
On its own, this is a fairly trivial example of someone trying to have their cake and eat it (or eat your cake and still have it, if you want the expression to make sense). But it’s depressingly common to see this sort of inconsistency from some groups, particularly Christians. They frequently support their arguments with contradictory beliefs, claiming to be persecuted and counter-cultural even while asserting that they make up a majority and doing their best to dismiss any evidence to the contrary.
You could argue that atheists like Richard Dawkins are guilty of the same thing in reverse, but you’d be wrong. Dawkins is very clear that his census survey was motivated by the suspected discrepancy between people’s self-description as Christian and their beliefs and policy preferences. He believes (with good reason) that the majority broadly support his views, but that their response to a particular census question gives a different impression. Far from having it both ways, he’s specifically trying to resolve the discrepancy one way or the other.
Here’s the deal, guys: you can claim to be speaking for a majority, or you can claim to be persecuted, but trying both at once just makes you look confused or dishonest. It’s theoretically possible for a majority to be persecuted or oppressed (apartheid South Africa would be a modern example), but not when you have an equal right to vote and stand in elections.
So if you see someone arguing for your side with a claim that’s incompatible with your own views, you owe it to your own credibility to challenge them. Otherwise, you’re denying the truth of your own position and making your arguments appear inconsistent and opportunistic.