Breaking the Deafening Silence
Graham Hedges looks at the way in which leading Christian professional groups understand their role in relation to current issues and controversies
Should Christian professional groups regard themselves as campaigning groups with definite policies on controversial issues in their professions? Alternatively, should they be content with providing an arena in which individual members can discuss issues and reach their own conclusions? And finally, how should we respond to claims that Christians are being persecuted in the workplace today?
Regular readers of Christian Librarian may recall that I first raised these questions in my article Contending for the Faith or Spoiling for a Fight? published in our Winter 2011 issue. 
My article created a certain amount of interest (though it attracted few comments from within our own membership) and it was later reproduced on the web sites of both Christians at Work and Transform Work UK.
Since the publication of the article I have received helpful comments from several additional Christian professional groups. These revealed a variety of approaches, as well as areas of consensus, and some of the relevant remarks are summarised below.
Philip Nicolls, Senior Editor of the Christian Medical Fellowship, tells me that his organisation does not see any dichotomy between campaigning and providing a forum in which professional issues can be discussed in a Christian framework. Their approach is 'both and' and not 'either or'. While the group seeks to provide support to its members they also lobby the government, respond to consultation papers and stand up for doctors who are badly treated as a result of practising their faith.
The Christian Medical Fellowship finds itself on the front-line of Christian campaigning over many issues. These include the government's attempts to re-define marriage, beginning of life issues including the age limit for abortion, and the promotion of under-age sex through a 'no questions asked'' provision of the contraceptive pill to young teenage girls. Other areas addressed by the Fellowship include end of life and palliative care issues, the legalisation of assisted suicide, and the freedom of doctors to practise and appropriately share their Christian faith in healthcare settings.
Philip recognises that CMF membershold a diversity of views on many of these issues and explains that their publications include articles taking particular positions in the hope that these will provoke further thought and study of the Scriptures. CMF members are also active in arranging regional day conferences exploring topics at the interface between medicine and Christianity.
Philip acknowledges that campaigning is, by its nature, negative as one usually campaigns against something. However, he believes that the opportunity to put the Christian case forward on many of these issues is a chance for the positive message of Christianity to be heard. Christian values that he believes are relevant to current debates include respect for life, the value of the individual, the need for love and compassion, and the importance of God's design for marriage. He suggests that if Christians fail to speak positively into our society they must be prepared to accept some of the blame for the marginalisation of their views. The support for the current Coalition for Marriage petition, Philip suggests, provides evidence that there are still many people who are prepared to speak up for traditional biblical teaching on marriage. Christians are called to be salt and light, not to retreat into ghettos, but to influence the prevailing culture.
A slightly more cautious note is sounded in the response from Russell Whiting, Chair of the Social Work Christian Fellowship, who tells me that a recent SWCF conference re-considered the question of how the group should regard its role. During its forty year history, the SWCF has seen itself as a support organisation for Christians in social work and not as a campaigning group. In part this is because its members come from a wide range of denominations and hold a number of different positions from across the spectrum of Christian opinion and theological belief. So, for example, on the topic of adoption by gay couples there are members from organisations that have objected to this on principle and have discontinued their work rather than comply with current legislation. On the other hand, other members work in organisations who have been able to accommodate themselves to the present legal requirements. In order to provide a fellowship service to all Christians it is not possible to take a single campaigning line.
Despite this traditional reluctance to become involved in campaigning, in recent years there has been some pressure for the SWCF to become more overtly political. One of the challenges for the group is to decide how they can do this and still keep their essentially inclusive character. Following this year's conference the SWCF became a formal supporter of the Amnesty International Still Human, Still Here campaign which supports destitute asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. It was thought that this was one campaign that the Fellowship could officially endorse and it may be that in the futurethere will be other similar campaigns.
It may or may not be significant that Philip Nicolls and Russell Whiting describe the theological positions of their groups in slightly different terms. While Philip stresses that the CMF adheres to an evangelical doctrinal basis, similar to that of the Universities' and Colleges' Christian Fellowship, Russell says that, in recent years, the SWCF has tried to attract members from across a wider Christian spectrum. In order to emphasise this more inclusive approach some recent SWCF conferences have been held in a Roman Catholic retreat centre. Members, however, are still required to be in agreement with a written statement of faith.
Robert Hall, Membership Director of the Association of Christian Teachers, stresses that ACT is a grouping of Christians who work in education and have an evangelical, Bible believing, gospel perspective. It would, however, be foolish to imagine that all have identical views or experiences or come from the same traditions. Members come from diverse denominations and work in diverse fields ranging from prison education departments to early years units. What unites them is a relationship with God who, they believe, cares for their whole lives and particularly their work in education.
Robert is not sure that the ACT members expect their association to take a definite stand on many current issues in education. He is also concerned that the group should not align itself with the ideologies of either the right or the left. Some sections of society see teachers as left wing radicals seeking to destroy the traditions of our way of life. Robert feels that this is probably the rationale of the “back to basics” approach of some politicians who, in education matters, seek to return to an imaginary golden age, generally their own childhoods, when everything was about perfect. ACT members have diverse political views, which they can hold almost as tightly as their Christian convictions and the ACT leadership has sometimes been accused by disaffected members of being too sympathetic to either left or right wing viewpoints.
Robert recalls that a former General Secretary, Richard Wilkins, raised the profile of ACT with his writings on Hallowe'en in schools, but feels that there a few other topics where the organisation could repeat this success. Since the Hallowe'en incident, the secular media's attitude towards churches, Christians, and Christian groups has hardened. The result is that Christians are often seen as being on the fringes of what is acceptable and vulnerable to the labels of extremism and fundamentalism.
Despite his concerns about ACT becoming too politically involved, Robert reports that there have been occasions when the organisation has tried to adopt a higher profile. The ACT responded to the General Teaching Council consultation on the code of conduct for teachers, and received some positive feedback. In the approach to the last General Election they wrote to each party asking them to respond to a series of questions on educational policy. ACT regularly issues press releases on matters of the day within education, and these lead to Christian radio and television interviews and coverage in the Christian press. One such matter was the exclusion of religious education as a subject in the English Baccalaureate. Coverage in the secular press, however, is much less common. These have all been issues where matters of current importance were being discussed and ACT had a message to put across which was clear, biblical, and acceptable to the vast majority of their members.
Robert spent several years working for members of a trade union and his experience has taught him that “softly, softly” is usually the best approach. ACT tends to speak with a quieter voice these days avoiding the confrontational tactics of earlier times. Their work takes place behind the scenes, engaging in dialogue on committees, building relationships and finding common ground. He believes that there is a real sense in which Christians have to earn the respect of the press and government before they can engage in constructive dialogue.
What about the question of the so-called 'persecution' of Christians in the contemporary workplace? Since my original article this topic has been addressed in the Clearing the Ground report produced by the Christians in Parliament group with assistance from the Evangelical Alliance.
More recently, the Evangelical Alliance has welcomed the recommendation that Baroness Onara O'Neill should succeed Trevor Phillips as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Commission attracted criticism following Mr. Phillip's remarks that religious groups should leave their beliefs “at the door of the temple”. The EA has called for the Commission to take an approach to equality and diversity that is genuinely appreciative of identity and difference. 
A forthright approach is taken by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, in his book We Don't Do God: the marginalisation of public faith, 
An anonymous contributor to the Transform Work UK web site admits to having some concerns about so-called 'persecution' in the workplace. He or she notes that, in these cases, we do not always know the full story from the media or campaigning groups. We need to speak out about injustice and unfair treatment, but some Christians are unnecessarily confrontational and seem to prefer to pick a fight than resolve an issue amicably. We should also take on board that many employers feel threatened by equal opportunities legislation and this can cause them to over-react in some cases.
Robert Hall, of the Association of Christian Teachers, acknowledges that there have been some high profile cases of Christians who have seemingly been discriminated against. Christians in education are included, although none of these have been ACT members, as far as he knows. Research into these cases sometimes reveals that there is a much more complex story behind the reported headlines, and the persecuted person's Christianity is not the only issue, or indeed an issue at all. Some teachers are simply not good at their jobs while others can be difficult, awkward, obstinate or arrogant and would be best advised to move on professionally.
Russell Whiting, of the Social Work Christian Fellowship, agrees that the picture on this topic is often complex. One of the roles of his organisation is to support Christians who are social workers in organisations that are not particularly sympathetic to their values. Often they find that colleagues are not actually critical or persecuting of Christian staff but hold a simplistic view of what Christians values actually are. In general terms in recent years social work as a profession has begun to gain a better understanding of the importance of faith in the lives of some individuals and how it is important to respect that faith.
Another side to this question, Russell finds, is that just as Christians have not always had a welcome in the social work profession, social workers have not always found a welcome place in the churches.
Stereotypical and uninformed attitudes to social work have been held, even by church leaders who have seen social work as anti-family, or social workers as intruders into family life. Some of SWCF's work has been to offer an alternative fellowship for Christian social workers, and helping churches to understand more about the nature of social work and why it is important.
I am grateful for the contributions of the various leaders of Christian professional groups who have provided their comments for these two articles.
No doubt these debates will continue and I will be grateful for further contributions, not least from the members of our own Librarians' Christian Fellowship. Please break the “deafening silence” and let me know what you think our priorities should be as we seek to provide a Christian presence in the wider library and information professions.
Graham Hedges, Hon. FCLIP, MCLIP,
is the Secretary of the Librarians' Christian Fellowship and worked until recently for the public library service in the London Borough of Wandsworth.
 My original article included comments from the representatives of several Christian professional associations. A variety of viewpoints were expressed although a number of the groups had not replied to my questions when I compiled the article. Steven Rouch of Christian Nurses and Midwives made the comment that it was often difficult for his group to formulate official policy statements as their appeals for the views of their members were often greeted with a “deafening silence”. The experience within our own Librarians' Christian Fellowship has often been similar in that requests for contributions to current debates rarely attract much of a response from our members. Christian Librarian, No. 55, Winter 2011, pp. 37-42.
 This report suggests that recent equalities legislation has been responsible for creating, rather than reducing, social tensions. The compilers call for changes in the law, more education about religion in government, better guidance for local government and a review of the workings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The report is clear, however, that the present situation does not justify the claim that working Christians are being 'persecuted' in the United Kingdom today.This report can be downloaded, or a printed copy requested, from http://www.eauk/current-affairs/publications/clearing-the-ground.cfm
 Evangelical Alliance press release dated 5 October 2012.
 co-written with his journalist son, Andrew Carey. Responding to recent reports of Christians who have been in trouble for wearing crosses, expressing traditional Christian views about homosexuality, or sharing their faith with colleagues or clients, Lord Carey raises the question, “How is it possible - in a country which has an established Church and a Queen who by tradition 'defends the faith' – that Christianity is being marginalised and even discriminated against by our twenty-first century society as a whole?”Monarch, £7.99, ISBN 978-0857210202.
Graham Hedges, 22/11/2012