THE customs officials at Prague airport sensed I was hiding something but couldn’t find it. So, backed by soldiers pointing machine guns at me, their chief decided to rough me up a bit.
They were right. I did have contraband on me – but probably not the sort they were expecting.
For as a young Anglican priest in the early 1980s, I was smuggling suitcases of Bibles and theology books behind the Iron Curtain, so priests could still be ordained by the underground Catholic church. They needed these subversivematerials because of a ban on ordinations in the state-controlled Catholic church, instituted by the Marxist Czechoslovak government.
Unsurprisingly, being beaten up at gunpoint is an experience that’s still vivid almost 40 years later. It is an experience that helped define me. But what has this to do with my recent conversion to Catholicism?
Everything. Because, sadly, I have come to the conclusion that in some important respects Britain is starting to resemble Soviet-era Eastern Europe. Freedom of speech is slowly being eroded; those who refuse to be ‘politically correct’ risk accusations of thought crime and Christians are being unfairly persecuted.
And where is the Church of England in this crucial culture war? Is it on the front line? Not that I can see. If anything, it has switched sides.
This isn’t just a shame, it’s a calamity. For 2,000 years, Christianity has led the way in the quest for truth, freedom of thought and freedom of conscience. That has blossomed into the sciences, free speech and democracy. For hundreds of years, the C of E has been a fulsome supporter of this noble project.
Not any more. Too often, called upon to defend Christian values, it has remained astonishingly silent. Nowhere is this starker today than in the highly-charged debate overtransgender rights, particularly regarding children and teenagers.
Gender dysphoria – where a person feels they are a differentgender to their physical sex – must be a terrible thing to suffer from.
But the huge rise in minors seeking potentially irreversible treatment to transition from male to female – or, increasingly, vice versa – surely sets alarm bells ringing. Are all these impressionable youngsters truly transgender, or is something else going on?
Today’s children are bombarded with social media messages sowing doubts about what was a cast-iron certainty of childhood: you are a boy or a girl. And, as The Mail on Sunday reported last week, up to a quarter of children ‘presenting’ as transgender could simply be autistic.
Against this confusing backdrop, the Church of England could provide some certainty. It could help by reminding people that God loves us for who we are, not who we identify as. It could defend doctors who profess that the vast majority of us are born one of two sexes – male or female – and that no amountof drugs, surgery or self-identification will override our fundamental biology. It could speak out against gender-neutral toilets in schools, which lead to girls going thirsty and even staying at home during menstruation for fear of using the loo.
Instead, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has presided over advice warning schools against having distinct boys’ and girls’ uniforms – because it might ‘create difficulty for trans pupils’.
Two years ago, Kent magistrate Richard Page lost his judicial post and then his NHS job after saying he thought it was in a child’s best interests to be raised by a mother and a father. He was booted out of public life for daring to state this, his honestly held Christian belief – a belief held by millions of others. Mr Page’s case sent a worrying signal to others, particularly in the public sector, that while they might have aright to freedom of religious expression, they should keep their mouths shut if they value their jobs.
Yet the Church of England didn’t kick up a fuss about it. The latest stupidity was its endorsement of a Church school changing the words of a carol from ‘little Lord Jesus’ to ‘baby boy Jesus’ – in the name of inclusivity. But as Christians, is Jesus not our Lord?
Rather than resist such political correctness, and offer a Christian critique, the Church of England has swallowed it wholesale.
These apparently minor concessions are symptomatic of the C of E’s wider capitulation to the increasingly intense and non-negotiable demands of a secular culture.
This secular ‘crusade’ has been a long time coming, beginning in our universities before spreading out across society at large.
For 25 years, I worked as a chaplain and academic in SussexUniversity, where I was initially supportive of ‘progressive’-sounding causes such as ‘equality’, ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. But I grew uneasy as I realised that behind these warm words lies a very particular secular agenda, highly intolerant of dissenting views.
Like Soviet-era Marxism, equality of outcome is elevated above all else – at the expense of freedom of speech. Religious belief is opposed or marginalised – because it is perceived as competition for ‘hearts and minds’. So similar is today’s threat to its 20th Century parent that it is sometimes called Cultural Marxism. I call it ‘Marxism 2.0’.
Why has the Church of England given in so easily? Perhaps because as the church of the state, which itself rolled over years ago, the position by biting the hand that feeds it.
Perhaps its optimistic, mainly Left-wing, clergy believe they can build an equality heaven here on Earth. If so, they forget the millions murdered at the behest of ‘utopians’ like Stalin and Mao.
Whatever the reason, instead of standing up for the Christian faith and risking unpopularity, too often the Church of England caves in. Instead of providing Christianity, it offers spirituality. It is not enough.
From 2008 to 2017, I had the great honour of serving as a chaplain to Her Majesty. But as I recognised the full scale of this growing threat, I wanted to speak out to defend our faith and Christian culture without drawing the Queen into the debate.
In each generation, Christianity has a choice: convert its surroundings or be converted by it. Regrettably, I have come to believe that the Church of England has given up on the essentials of the faith at points where it really matters.
By contrast, I believe what Catholicism teaches us is true: thatJesus is the Son of God and was born of the Virgin Mary thanks to the Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate at Christmas; that He died on the Cross; and was physicallyresurrected three days later.
I now believe only the Catholic church has the courage, integrity and conviction to hold the Christian ground.
If we give way any further, we risk another Iron Curtain. Only this time, it will separate the Christian East from the Marxist West – and we will be on the wrong side.