Cristina Odone: a carol service ‘too Christian’ for church?
While Cranmer is more than a little perturbed that the singing of Advent carols should be considered a multi-faith occasion at all (since the Incarnation is unequivocally concerned with the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God, which other faiths refute), he is more incensed that this gathering was to be in a church – St Martin in the Fields – yet the message had to be ‘suitable’ for followers of minority faiths, atheists, agnostics, diplomats and politicians.
Cristina Odone had been asked to write a brief speech on ‘opportunities for all’ that could be ‘political and controversial’, and so she developed the theme of secular intolerance towards believers of all faiths, from the British Airways worker suspended for wearing a cross to the Muslim schoolgirl banned from wearing the veil – distinctly multi-faith and PC, you might think.
But not for the Royal Commonwealth Society, who said her words were not appropriate ‘because the congregation would include people of little or no faith who would be upset’. Instead, she was asked to read a passage from Bertrand Russell, a militant atheist, irrespective of upset this might offend her or other Christians.
And so Ms Odone has pulled out of the event, accusing the society of demonstrating exactly the kind of intolerance she had planned to criticise. Communicants a readers may decide for themselves, for here follows the full text of her speech deemed possibly offensive to those attending a Christmas church service:
’I wonder what the Christian children at Portree Primary school in Skye would say about equal opportunities.
Their local authority had forced them to drop the word "lord" in the grace before meals, as it was deemed offensive.
I wonder what Shabina Begum would make of equal opportunities. She was the young Muslim girl who took her school to court when it banned her from wearing the veil.
And what of Nadia Eweida? Does she think this is a country of equal opportunities? She was the woman, you may remember, who learned the hard way that a Christian may not wear a crucifix when working for BA.
When it comes to expressing their faith, this country's believers have found that opportunities are blocked. Whether it is the boss at work or the head at school, the local authority or the chattering classes, people of faith know that their worldview is under siege, and their allegiances under suspicion.
To parade this allegiance by wearing a cross, a cap or a veil is red rag to the secularist bull. For these God-bashers, it doesn't matter if you belong to the Christian majority or the Sikh minority.
Their beef is with any belief system other than their own Godless one. For them, it is not enough to exclude those who do not subscribe to their soulless scientism or their one-dimensional rationalism. Pariah status is only the first step in the punishment they mete out to those who refuse to follow their lead. There is also mockery - in public as well as in private; and outright hostility.
But ultimately nothing short of censorship will do. Secularists may criticise religions as oppressive, dogmatic and self-righteous, but this is precisely how they themselves act. They have moved to introduce bans: wearing the hijab is forbidden, ditto the use of the word Christmas, ditto the cross, and countless other symbols of belief. And we have the atheists' Newspeak, a poisonous drip-drip that tries to brainwash us into seeing people of faith as idiots, despots, bigots.
What little opportunity believers have to bear witness to their faith is being quashed. If you are black or gay or female, your plea for equal opportunity is met with respect, and your campaign is applauded by supporters. But not if you are a believer.
In a culture increasingly hostile to God and his followers, expressions of faith have become taboo. The only opportunity we have is for silence.’
Stuart Mole, the director-general of the Royal Commonwealth Society, insisted that they needed ‘to be mindful of the congregation, which will probably include quite a few drawn by the occasion and by the carols but who do not hold a deep (or even a shallow) faith’.
Well, the British Commonwealth includes Muslim countries, so when will Mr Mole insist on a multi-faith Eid Service in Regent’s Park Mosque? And when will he instruct the speakers at such an occasion that nothing from the Qur’an may be quoted in case anyone be offended? And why should the secularists freely propagate their hopeless gospel of materialism while the Church is silenced into timidity? Why should the pursuit of prosperity at any price, to material well-being as the chief goal of earthly existence, be lauded, while believers in the Lord Jesus Christ cower in passivity and retreat.
It is a topsy-turvy world indeed where expressions of faith are banned from a Christmas carol service because secularists might be offended; where the naming of Mohammed Bear results in imprisonment; where a small piece of jewellery results in losing one’s employment. With so much suffering, poverty and loneliness all around, it is time to consider the real meaning of the Incarnation during this Advent season.
Cranmer calls on the invertebrates in the Church of England to inform the Royal Commonwealth Society that Christmas carols are not merely a good sing-song on a par with ‘Down at the Old Bull and Bush’, and to remind them that their patron is Her Majesty the Queen, who is a devout believer herself and swore to uphold all the foundations of the Church of England at her coronation.
And Cranmer calls on the ecclesial authorities of St Martin in the Fields to cancel this service on the basis that it is too secular for a church.