2016 – Here's to a Year of (In)Tolerance?

2016 – Here's to a Year of (In)Tolerance?

(By the way, this post comes with an action point, so keep reading through the pre-amble!)

Have you seen Google’s summary video of what we searched for in 2015?

Have a butcher’s:

According to the ad agency that Google used, the short film aims to reveal “our struggle for identity,” particularly highlighting questions about human rights, gender equality and the refugee crisis.

There’s some phenomenal and moving stuff in there. And you can’t help but notice the stirring voiceover, taken from Caitlyn Jenner’s acceptance speech after receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY awards (an American sports-focused awards ceremony). Her words powerfully ring out:

It seems that, according to Google’s account of 2015, the struggle for identity goes hand-in-hand with the discovery and spread of acceptance.

Of course, another word often associated with acceptance is tolerance. To be accepting is to be tolerant, right?

And yet I was struck by this perceptive cartoon by the brilliant Adam4d (worth following, by the way), a few weeks back:

#tolerance pic.twitter.com/ZPFBSxSZhX

— Adam Ford (@Adam4d) December 30, 2015

It would seem that in our desire to champion acceptance, we have lost an understanding that tolerance isn’t the same as total agreement.

What happens to you if you disagree with the majority? Are you still accepted? And so what really has happened to the idea of free speech?

This side of the Atlantic, we’ve seen another side to all this. Understandably recent events in Europe have meant that in the UK there’s a particular concern about fostering ‘extremism’.

And yet it seems this climate of ‘clampdown’ is happening in such a way that difference and minority views are in danger of being suppressed.

Take, for example, the ban against a video featuring a prayer Jesus taught (and, as it happens, a prayer that has been at the heart of UK life for centuries) being used as an advert before Star Wars.

Or take this interesting interview with William Nye, former senior Whitehall civil servant and Principal Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales, where he speaks about the “silencing” of Christians in the public sector, and faith being “squeezed out”.

Perhaps more alarming is the UK government’s proposal for a Counter-Extremism Strategy. Sounds sensible right? Who, after all, wants extremism running rife?

The problem is that this strategy focuses on out-of-school education, and so could equally be applied to Christian education, as well as that of any other religion. Effectively any educational environment for under-19s that spanned six hours per week would be ‘Ofstedded’, requiring registration and possible government visits.

Although weekly children and youth meetings offered by a church may not reach this time threshold, one-off day trips, summer camps, Christian festivals, training days and holiday clubs could be eligible.

But over the weekend you can do something about this.

This coming Monday, 11th January, sees the deadline for the consultation period of the government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy. That means you’ve got about 36 hours to express any concern before the deadline passes.

As the Evangelical Alliance have expressed it, although “the aim of the new regime is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children,” there is a concern that:

“…traditional biblical teaching about sin and absolute claims of Christ could be considered at odds with some interpretations of ‘British values’ and ‘extremism’, and therefore be grounds for a complaint.”

As a friend put it, “Making Ofsted inspect religion in churches is like making Inland Revenue inspect art in schools.”

The most straight-forward way to register your concern is by emailing the Department for Education, ensuring you provide your name and role within your church. This is particularly important if you’re a parent, student, volunteer teacher, youth leader or church leader, but of course anyone can respond.

More information on doing this is available from the Evangelical Alliance  here or, alternatively, see the Christian Institute’s page.

You may also like to read this short post by theologian Mike Ovey, on ‘Who Counts as an Extremist?’.