December 1st, 2010
05:18 PM ET
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
Christianity is under attack in the United Kingdom, and Christians must fight efforts to "air-brush" their religion out of the picture, a former head of the Church of England warned Wednesday.
"In spite of having contributed so much to our civilization and providing its foundation, the Christian faith is in danger of being stealthily and subtly brushed aside," said George Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury.
Carey is fronting a new campaign, "Not Ashamed," by the group Christian Concern. He launched it with appearances at the House of Lords, Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's office.
Christian Concern encouraged people to wear crosses and "Not Ashamed" buttons Wednesday to promote the campaign.
The group fights what it sees as discrimination against Christians, and has fought several high-profile lawsuits.
It's currently backing a Christian couple who say they were denied permission to be foster parents because their faith wouldn't let them say homosexuality is acceptable.
Carey and Christian Concern are upset about rulings against workers who wore crosses on the job and Christian adoption agencies that wouldn't place children with gay couples.
"Teachers and council employees are suspended for offering to 'say a prayer.' A devoted nurse is banned from wearing a cross, a British Airways worker told to remove hers," Carey said.
"Roman Catholic adoption agencies are closed down under new laws. Christian marriage registrars who cannot, in good conscience, preside over civil partnership ceremonies are summarily dismissed," he added, rattling off recent legal setbacks.
Carey says a combination of "well-meaning political correctness, multiculturalism and overt opposition to Christianity," is promoting "a new climate hostile to our country's tradition and history."
But a leading American humanist sees things differently.
"There should be a level playing field between religion and nonreligion, but that is not an attack on religion," said Roy Speckhardt, the head of the American Humanist Association.
He agreed that Christians should not be ashamed of their faith, but urged all religious people to "think hard" about it.
"Today is a special time in history," he said. "If your faith is Catholic and your clergy has been engaged in illegal activity and the hierarchy has covered it up ... a little bit of shame is beneficial."
And the shame shouldn't be limited to Catholics or Christians, he argued.
"There are Muslims out there who are progressives and positive-minded folks, but there are those who engaged in violence and see it as an excuse for violence," he said.
"Those of us who are cognizant of the positive and negative in our faith need to think hard about that," he said.
Some American Christians may be so turned off by what they see as church emphasis on "sex and family issues" that they deny being Christians at all, one religion expert said.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of Americans who say they have no religion - "nones," in the jargon of religion scholars.
They "do not want to be seen as affiliating with religion because, to them, religion means the religious right and thus a brand of politics they do not agree with," said David Campbell.
"So, yes, I think it is fair to say that they are ashamed of being identified as having a religion, specifically Christianity," he said.
He is the co-author, with Robert Putnam, of a huge new study of religion in America, "American Grace."
He doesn't think the phenomenon is repeating itself in England, though, since the country has no political religious right to speak of.
England is legally a Christian country, with the monarch as head of the Church of England. According to 2001 census figures, about 72 percent of British people consider themselves Christian.
But actual church attendance is low. The Church of England estimates that about 1.7 million people go to church in an average month, out of about 26 million Anglicans in the country.
The Catholic Church in England and Wales puts weekly church attendance at about a million, out of roughly 5 million Catholics.
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