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Am I Radicalising Anybody, Mr Cameron?

July 2, 2015

The following is a letter I wrote yesterday to the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary, occasioned by the new guidelines issued to help schools spot and prevent radicalisation, but dealing more with terminology and societal pressure…

Dear Mr Cameron,Schools headline

I am writing to you to express my concern about the increasing intolerance we see in the UK today. No, I’m not talking about discrimination against gays – what I’m worried about is the intolerance expressed against all who disagree with the official narrative; the strong feelings of hatred stirred up against those who don’t toe the socially prescribed line.

On Tuesday the 30th June, the news included a feature about the new guidelines for schools on how to spot potential radicalisation. The one specific feature that was mentioned in the news was opposition to same-sex marriage, because ISIS is very opposed to homosexuality; that is indeed true, but surely the government is aware that so are many other groups?

I am an ordinary Baptist pastor in a very ordinary Baptist church in England. Last Sunday, I told my congregation (not for the first time) that same-sex marriage is wrong. Am I therefore radicalising my congregation (most of who already agree with that statement anyway)? Or was it only the teenagers present that shouldn’t have been subject to my “hate speech”?

Another tell-tale sign of possible radicalisation is apparently intolerance against other faiths and beliefs. Now, I have on numerous occasions stated that if Jesus is the only way to know God – a standard Christian position in anyone’s book – then other religions are mistaken. Does that count as intolerance?

The main question here is: who defines words like “homophobia”, “hate speech” and “intolerance”? It seems to me that those terms are now being (re)defined with a particular agenda in mind: to make everyone conform to the current winds of opinion. That is surely not a British value!

“Tolerance” means allowing the existence of something / somebody you disapprove of. It is not the same as accepting or approving of – on the contrary. I don’t ‘tolerate’ evangelical Christianity, I agree with it. I don’t just ‘tolerate’ democracy, I believe it’s better than all current alternatives. I ‘tolerate’ people who I disagree with. As a Conservative, you ‘tolerate’ the Labour party, even though you don’t agree with their policies!

Thus, the current insistence that “tolerance” must imply approval, or rather, that disapproval is automatically intolerance, is highly disingenuous and inimical to free speech – especially when the label “hate speech” is used about any expression of disapproval or dislike. I agree that “tolerance” is a good, British value (although not exclusively British!) – but it mustn’t be made to mean that only one truth, one narrative, one opinion is permissible. If that is what it means, then North Korea is a “tolerant” society…

Now, I don’t have a problem with trying to prevent young people going off to fight in Syria – we both agree that ISIS is evil and that children joining them is a terrible tragedy. I just want to highlight the problem of terminology; and the danger that children from any faith background will be scared into not expressing their opinion, or even discuss / question their inherited faith, for fear of investiga­tions and false labelling. This would not be conducive to a truly tolerant society, where opposing views can be discussed, opposed and supported, without any unfair stigmas being attached to particular points of view.

Yours respectfully,

David Hellsten

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From → Christianity, Faith, Jesus

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