The Prince of Wales has visited London’s Melkite Greek Catholic parish, based at St Barnabas Church in Pimlico. Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos was in attendance, along with Syriac Archbishop Athanasius Father Aphrem, Fr Shafiq Abouzayd and Canon Robin Gibbons. Prince Charles spoke of his own faith, his despair at the appalling plight of Christians in the Middle East, and his hope during this season of Advent:
It does seem to me that in our troubled times, when so many Christians in the Middle East face such desperate trials, there is at least some potential comfort to be found in remembering our connections to the earliest days of the Church. Indeed, as all of you know only too well, the Christmas story itself ends with the Holy Family fleeing for refuge from persecution; just as in 2017 large numbers of Christians, such as the families that I had the particular pleasure of meeting before this service, are being forced to leave their homes in the face of the most brutal persecution on account of their faith. Such barbaric persecution is even more perverse and dreadful when as many Christians seem unaware. The true spirit of reverence, which Muslims display towards Jesus and his mother Mary springs from the fountain head of their faith as described in the Koran.
As someone who, throughout my life, has tried, in whatever small way I can, to foster understanding between people of faith, and to build bridges between the great religions of the world, it is heartbreaking beyond words to see just how much pain and suffering is being endured by Christians, in this day and age, simply because of their faith. As Christians we remember, of course, how Our Lord called upon us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute. But for those confronted with such hatred and oppression, I can only begin to imagine how incredibly hard it must be to follow Christ’s example.
And then came this nugget of theo-political awareness:
It is so vitally important, in this season of Advent and throughout the year, that Christians in this country and elsewhere, who enjoy the rights of freedom of worship and freedom of expression, do not take those rights for granted; and that we remember, and do what we can to support, our fellow Christians for whom the denial of such rights has had such profound and painful consequences.
Nuggety, because the Prince of Wales has gone further in this speech than many politicians and church leaders currently dare. Most will talk effusively of inter-religious tolerance and the imperative of freedom of worship, but very few these days will defend Christians’ freedom of expression, i.e., freedom of religion; the freedom to manifest their faith in the public space; to walk in spirit and in truth; to propagate the Christian faith and witness to Christ in the world. Freedom of worship is practised in oppressive and tyrannical countries where freedom of religion is forbidden. You may be free to be a Christian (Jew/Jehovah’s Witness, etc) in Islamic and Atheist-Communist countries, but you are not free to manifest your faith in the public arena or to share your beliefs with others.
By juxtaposing freedom of expression with freedom of worship, the Prince of Wales is talking inter alia about those street preachers whom no bishop defends, but Christian Concern doggedly shields and sustains from the forces of Islamism, secularism and judicial activism…
Mr Courney had been arrested by police under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, and was charged with using threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.
In court, Christian Legal Centre’s allied solicitor Michael Phillips argued that the law provides the freedom for him to preach the Christian message, a freedom which has been upheld in the courts for many years.
Oluwole was charged by police under Section 5 of the Public Order Act for using threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress which was racially aggravated.
Christian Legal Centre’s allied solicitor Michael Phillips argued in written submissions to the CPS that the law provides the freedom for him to preach the Christian message, a freedom which has been upheld in the courts for many years. The CPS accepted these submissions and dropped the case.
Freedom of worship and freedom of expression are foundational British liberties, currently besieged (if not nullified and negated) by ascendant and increasingly frequent appeals to ‘religious hatred’. By exhorting British Christians to guard these hard-won liberties, the Prince of Wales shows that he is patently aware of their incremental erosion – not least because they aren’t included among the Government’s rather fuzzy notion of ‘British values‘. We supplant religious freedom with statist tolerance, and exchange public theology for mandatory respect, at our peril.
The glorious things is that when Prince Charles speaks about it, Clarence House tweets about it. And the ensuing thread, replete with freedom of expression, is a wonder to behold: