Monday, 15 August 2011

Freedom of religious belief

I was interested to  read on the E- Church blog that there has been a complaint to the Charity Commission concerning the Barnabas Fund. The reasons this subject caught my attention is that a church which I attended about ten years ago used to support this charity and, following its promotion by the vicar one day in a sermon, I signed one of its petitions and pledged a regular donation. The sermon or talk, if I remember rightly, focused on Muslims who, having converted to Christianity in some Muslim countries, faced death threats or murder as a result of their "apostasy". One of the rights which I believe in very strongly is that of freedom of belief. As we have seen in this country the concept of persecution can be stretched rather broadly, but nevertheless the thought that anyone could face death as a result of their religious beliefs should rightly horrify us.
As a result of signing up to the Barnabas Fund ( I am sure it was called the Barnabas Trust back then?) we got sent a monthly magazine detailing the plight of Christians in various Islamic countries. Many of these stories were moving and shocking and an indictment of Muslim fundamentalism, but what started to concern me was the fact that the Barnabas magazine itself increasingly ran articles which expressed controversial  views of Muslims in the UK. One article focused on "The Islamisation of Britain" and attacked the Muslim community and seemed to me to suggested that fairly innocuous events, such as the presence of mosques, was an insult to British Christians. One picture in the article, of a Muslim woman and her child, was captioned "A Muslim woman and child walk through Hyde Park" - although why this should have been a noteworthy matter was not really made clear. It seemed particularly ironic that an organisation whose main aim was to promote the right for Christians in Muslim countries to be treated with respect did not seem to accord the same respect when the boot was on the other foot. I eventually wrote a letter of complaint to the organisation, it was written in 2004 but I still have it in my files, and withdrew my donation. They did not respond.
There is a great deal of anti Islamic feeling in this country, some of it is understandable, but at times its ferocity disturbs  me. I also particularly dislike hearing that sort of hatred from people who profess to be Christian. Quite often such people will excuse themselves as not being racist  or religiously intolerant on the basis that they revere the Jews as God's chosen people (this then gives them  an additional reason to hate Islam.) One of the ironies of  the type of Christian Zionist ideologies often held by evangelical fundamentalists is that they generally have as their base premise the belief that the Jews will be converted to Christianity before Jesus returns. Thus the reverence for Judaism is not one based on respect or religious tolerance, but purely a marking of time until the Jews can all admit the error of their ways and accept Christ as Messiah. In this respect it can at times be little more than another form of anti-semitism dressed in respectable robes.
It will be interesting to see what the Charity Commission rules on the Barnabas Fund.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with all this post.

    It will indeed be interesting to see how this concludes.