To Christian Concern: Thank you for highlighting injustice but please drop the spin

Yesterday was a busy day for Christian Concern.

Lesley Pilkington the Christian psychotherapist who was struck off by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) after she was tricked into providing ‘gay cure’ counselling for a fake client who was secretly an undercover journalist, received the outcome of her appeal.  Christian Concern have been backing her publicly and their sister organisation the Christian Legal Centre have been supporting her during the BACP proceedings.

Also Christian Concern were hosting the One Man one Woman marriage conference in partnership with the World Congress of Families looking at government proposals for the future of marriage.  The conference had some high-profile speakers including Phillip Blond, the director of the Res Publica think tank who has been closely associated with David Cameron.

The conference was to be held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London but at the last minute the booking was cancelled by the Centre with the explanation that it was “inappropriate”.

This was the second time this month that the conference had been forced to change venue.  Originally it was to be hosted at the Law Society headquarters until earlier this month the Law Society withdrew the booking for this reason:

 “The nature of your event has recently been drawn to our attention, and it is contrary to our diversity policy, espousing as it does an ethos which is opposed to same-sex marriage.”

Christian Concern were rightly unimpressed with these cancellations and on the whole the press has been in agreement with them.  The conference’s stance in support of existing marriage legislation is perfectly legitimate and it’s deeply worrying that two well respected venues do not feel that free speech in agreement with current laws should be exercised on their premises.

Somehow Christian Concern manage to constantly surround themselves with controversy.  Because they regularly speak out on contentious issues such as abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia and religious freedom from what many would see as an orthodox Biblical understanding, they frequently clash with those with strongly differing views.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of what they do is their legal support of Christian individuals  in this country who have been ‘persecuted’ for their beliefs.  Lesley Pilkington is an example of this.  The underhand tactics used by her supposed client to discredit her because she offers reparative therapy for gay people who want to change their orientation were pretty despicable and the initial treatment received by Mrs Pilkington from the BACP was heavy handed.  This was born out in the results of yesterday’s appeal ruling which reversed most of the original decision and reduced the sanctions against her.

Patrick Strudwick, the ‘client’ does not come out of this well.  The BACP said that he lulled Mrs Pilkington into a false sense of security and through his persistent questioning he manipulated the content of the sessions to a considerable extent in order to meet his own agenda.

If you read Christian Concern’s report of the appeal outcome it’s hard to understand why Mrs Pilkington has still lost her senior accredited status.  It makes clear that the BACP has not made any judgement on the reparative therapy she practices and she can continue to do this.  If you read the actual BACP ruling you will find that the sanctions arise from sloppy practice in the way Mrs Pilkington carried out her sessions.  You may disagree with these points but there is nothing mentioned in their ruling against her faith.  You wouldn’t think so from Christian Concern’s report though.  Peter Ould on his blog has written a piece that makes a similar point.

I don’t want to dismiss what Lesley Pilkington has gone through.  She has had a torrid time and received a great deal more castigation than she deserved for her apparent failings.  The problem I have is how Christian Concern have spun the story to maximise the Christian ‘persecution’ element.  If you look at other cases they have backed and read their take on them you could quite easily be led to believe that Christians are having a tough time in our society at the moment.  Sometimes in the past I’ve read a story on their website and thought how awfully someone has been treated because they have been living out their faith openly only to find later on that I’ve not been given the whole story and things aren’t quite as bad as they have been made out to be or there are other mitigating circumstances.

I have several friends who won’t go near Christian Concern because they don’t trust them and I’ve learnt to be careful about accepting what they report at face value.  This is a great shame, because they do some excellent work and do support some individuals with legal help who do have a genuine case.

All this makes it hard to tell when they are fighting genuine intolerance.  The One Man One Woman conference is an example of this.  I suspect they would be  able to highlight this injustice more effectively if they had a better track record.

The Clearing the Ground report published by Christians in Parliament earlier this year made several criticisms of organisations such as Christian Concern:

‘Often the actions of some campaign groups can discredit the Church in the UK and result in perceptions that Christians are seeking unfair exemptions. By bringing highly emotive cases to the fore, they also can add to the feeling among Christians that are more marginalised than they
actually are.’

‘Christians should act and speak with integrity at all times, and when representing the Church to the world or communicating secular issues to the Church, they should speak with professionalism, accuracy and grace. The assumption of a martyr position can appear laudable, but is often a lazy mode of public engagement.’

I really don’t want to be unnecessarily critical of Christian Concern and the work that they do.  They are making a public stand that few others are willing to do.  My problem is not with their desire to see God’s values upheld in this country, but rather the way they sometimes go about this.  Paul writes that:

“Show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”  (Titus 2:7-8)

Integrity is often what sets Christians apart from the rest of the world.  Please Christian Concern bear this in mind in the way you present your work, think carefully and look to win back those who have lost respect for what you do.

Categories: Christian organisations, Justice, The law & legal issues

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13 replies

  1. Sorry to say Christian Concern have a long, long way to go before they’ll win my respect: the constant banging on about us poor, persecuted Christians simply grates, annoys and alienates: Christians aren’t being sidelined … except by people like CC, whose constant pushing at an open door does nothing but damage the hinges…

  2. Cristian Concern do have a genuine concern over the creeping intolerance against what Christians believe and stand for. You are right that some times I feel their clients have not always been wise in the way they got themselves into the circumstances they are in. We must be circumspect in what we do but not to let todays liberal society silence us and our beliefs. Christians need not feel embarresed to speak out against those things that offend God and therefore us also.

  3. CC tries hard and it has made progress, if only to bring debate about who can wear what in the public sphere of service and leisure provision in to the open. Most people, however, tend to think, “Oh get a life and get on with things”. I can go with that. It’s human. Times are hard. But, that surely is what happened in Germany in the 1930s? No one bothered that some groups were not allowed to meet and express dissent to the norms that were being adopted and enforced in the country. I do not need to express the result of that apathy.

    The One Man One Woman Conference should take place in any public related available premises. Otherwise surely this is the same – though opposite – of the Christian guest house owners refusing to accommodate same-sex couples into their premises? Both the conference venues and the guest house are open to ‘the public’ – religious, secular and or political.

    I would welcome the LGBT ‘society’ to come forth with a statement that allowed for secular and religious understanding of the positions they hold. There are many LGBT Christians. They should be encouraging debate and conferences to take place – yes even such conferences that wish to impose its own way of living upon them. Freedom of speech and the right to meet up and discuss and debate must be upheld – for both extremes. To fail to do that will lead us down a very dark path indeed.

    • You’ve made some extremely important points here. Thank you.

      I do have a lot of respect for much of what Christian Concern are doing. I’m not trying to slag them off or publicly humiliate them because that is uncalled for. I’m just trying to raise awareness and make a point of putting over what I’ve heard plenty of people say already along with my own observations. I want them to succeed and be effective in what they do, but it’s important integrity shouldn’t be sacrificed in the process.

  4. Phil Groom, are you reaslly saying that the double-banning of a group that speaks in favour of current UK law is a trivial matter? Can you name even one other example of this happening?

    • Hey Doc – where did I use the word “trivial” let alone imply it? Your words, brother, not mine…

      … and while we’re at it, how about dropping the spin, please? The C4M campaign is only a campaign “in favour of current UK law” insofar as current UK law favours inequality between straight and gay couples: it’s a campaign that was launched specifically to oppose the recognition of legitimate same-sex relationships as marriage.

      If the C4M campaign was genuinely interested in promoting marriage it would have been launched in response to the Marital Affairs shenanigans a while back — but no, methinks that would hit too close to home for many heterosexual couples who live a lie, pretending to marriage whilst being unfaithful to their partners, and current UK law makes that easy.

      So let’s turn a blind eye to the mess and hypocrisy that current UK law with all its compromises has made of marriage and let’s ring-fence it against gays, because that’s what matters, isn’t it? Not faithfulness, not integrity, not love or trust or honesty…

  5. I think the work of Christian concern is very important in terms of individual liberty for Christian employees and in the public space. The use of equality legislation has meant that trade unions have been unwilling or unable to support Christians many have been disadvantaged sacked, demoted, disciplined and harassed.Thankfully these cases are quite rare. Should they be able to make the public aware of their plight or should they quietly accept injustice in the workplace? Should we accept limits to freedom of speech as Trevor Phillips of the EHRC believes ( to keep our voice behind the temple door. ) If not who speaks on behalf of Christians in those settings ? If we have no voice does marginalisation tip into something else in the future. On the other hand the danger of politicising these individuals can then become divisive within society and my biggest concern is that too much resentment and division is created in the process. Particularly if people stray from the facts or habitually seek a position as victim. We then tend to want a battle instead of seeking understanding. We condemn rather than reach out. Christian concern remind us of how far society has moved from traditional Christian values. Are those values still valid ? Should we stand in them ? Have we now a more enlightened interpretation of the bible ? Do we read the bible in its cultural or literal sense ? If it is Gods will to bless same sex marriage. How do we know for sure? There IS an issue of religious liberty that is arising in our society which needs a voice and the discussion about ”What would God want” and ”What would Jesus say” in relation to what Christian values are is ongoing. Christian concern are meant to be, and are important to that discussion at the present time as is God and politics in the U.K.and others.

    • Spot on, Graham. We follow a Messiah who never hesitated to speak out — except in his own defence; and that’s a hard act to follow.

      My problem, and I think the issue Gillan has raised here, isn’t so much with what Christian Concern say as the way that they say it. Theologically I’m at the other end of the spectrum, and I acknowledge that I’m not always as gracious as I should be in responding to those with whom I differ (logs and specks in eyes come to mind) but something we all need to recognise is that there is a spectrum: Christianity isn’t monochrome, no matter how much some may wish to see things in black in white; and it’s the God of the Bible who created the rainbow in all it’s glorious technicolor, the promise of hope rather than judgement.

  6. Phil – With a great big log in my eye i get caught between not being black and white because life is really not like that but also trying to live by and speak for the teachings of Jesus. The bible is full of these tensions which i believe is meant to be so, to draw us into prayer life, relationship and communion with our great God. Theologically i am not quite settled yet as a relative new born. Sometimes i wish i could be as sure as others but maybe it would be harmful in the difficult quest to be humble. It seems there is always a point of principle to be balanced against a point of compassion love and grace.

    • It’s a high-wire act, isn’t it? We’re struggling along somewhere up in the blue — some of us, thinking back to one of the old Sunday School songs we used to sing, “way beyond the blue” — and we’ve got our balancing poles, with a bucketful of principles & rules on one end and a basketful of compassion, love & grace on the other… how on earth or in heaven are we going to make it across? And where’s the safety-net? Is there a safety net?

      … and as I write that, an excerpt from the funeral liturgy comes to mind … oddly enough, it’s a verse from Deuteronomy, part of that great tale of Israel’s liberation, underneath are the everlasting arms.

      Dare we trust that God can take care of the points of principle, leaving us holding on to grace? If we do that, will we end up swinging about upside-down from the high-wire? Will we end up like Jesus, crucified? Are any of us willing to trust God that far, to believe that the God in whom we trust is actually trustworthy, that God can see the end from the beginning, and that all our fussing and fears are actually groundless?

      Today, it’s Pentecost: the Holy Spirit sweeps through our midst. Dare we jump, lift our feet from the ground, and see where the Spirit will set us down?

      • I think that is one of the most beautiful things about our faith. God accepts us first irrespective of how many right answers we have. Faith in HIm is enough and grace is what we get in return.

        God knows what a struggle it is for us to reconcile His purity with this fallen world we have to inhabit. I don’t think God asks more of us than to give it our best shot and remain open to having our hearts and minds changed if we realise we haven’t got it right. God forgives us for not having all the right answers if we are not proud and in the same way we should be forgiving of other Christians we don’t agree with. The more we ask for the Holy Spirit to work in us, the easier it becomes, but also hopefully the more we should be getting things right as we go along too.

  7. Amen

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