It was reported yesterday that Sister Sarah Kuteh – a nurse of some 15 years experience – was sacked for gross misconduct. Apparently, her heinous unprofessionalism was manifest in her daring to offer prayer for patients in her care. And along with the Daily Mail and Telegraph, who are less than supportive of Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, the Archbishop Cranmer blog has added its voice.
Now, by and large, I agree with the comments set forth by Cranmer. The questions he raises are valid and timely. As he rightly asks: ‘Why should anyone lose their job over an offer of prayer? Isn’t that a bit heavy-handed, not to say draconian?’ Clearly the expected answer to these rhetorical questions are a resounding ‘they shouldn’t’ and an equally hearty ‘yes it is!’
He goes on:
A nurse sacked for offering to pray with her patients is a consequence of the rise of aggressive secularism and hard humanism. It is restrictive and inconvenient; dogmatic and intolerant.
And we would be right to agree for so it is.
However, Cranmer implores us, ‘let’s not call it persecution’ going on to say ‘out of respect for those who are literally carrying their crosses unto death, and mindful of the ecumenism of blood, let’s not call it persecution’.
Now, I suspect we can all assent to the underlying point. It is patently obvious that the sacking of an NHS nurse on spurious faith-related grounds is not even close to being of the same order as those being beheaded and killed for naming Jesus Christ as Lord. It is eminently true that it would be crass and insensitive to equate the two things as the same. Clearly there are degrees of persecution. I’m just not sure that means we aren’t to name it as persecution of any sort.
That we can all recognise persecution does not take the same form, nor is it always of the same degree, does that mean we cannot refer to lesser forms of it as persecution at all? Is it only beheadings or were the actions of Saul of Tarsus worthy of the label? What about the approach of certain totalitarian regimes that, whilst not necessarily ending in death, do end up in prison for those bearing the name of Christ? Where precisely does the line of persecution begin and mere draconian restriction end?
The other problem with this logic is it renders only the most extreme form of a thing a legitimate manifestation of it. Is only the iPhone 7 a true smartphone because the iPhone 6 is a lesser effort? Can we only consider that which is the best (or worst) example, a true definition of the thing itself? It feels a bit like the No True Scotsman fallacy combined with some question begging.
- Persecution is that which is being carried out by Islamic State
- Sister Kuteh was sacked as a result of her faith which is persecution
- Only true persecution is that being carried out by Islamic State
According to Cranmer, we shouldn’t call Sister Kuteh’s case persecution because true persecution is that which is going on in the Middle East. Then what is persecution? Persecution is what’s going on in the Middle East. It is a bit circular.
Let’s be clear on exactly what persecution is:
persecutionpəːsɪˈkjuːʃnnounnoun: persecution; plural noun: persecutionshostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; oppression.“her family fled religious persecution”Synonyms: oppression, victimization, maltreatment, ill treatment, mistreatment, abuse, ill usage,discrimination, tyranny, tyrannization, punishment, torment, torture; pogrom; informal witch hunt; informal red-baiting“victims of religious persecution”[Source: Google Dictionary]
Whilst we can all recognise degrees of these things, and clearly the unfortunate sacking of an NHS nurse is in no way comparable in severity to the multitude of martyrs being racked up across the world, how does nurse Kuteh’s situation not accord with this definition? Yes, it is in no way as severe or terrible as that faced by those around the world who are losing their lives for the faith but both are rightly labelled persecution, even if we (correctly) differentiate the degree and impact of them.
In his little commentary Encountering the Book of Romans, Doug Moo offers this comment in respect to Paul on persecution in Romans 12:9-21:
The final elaboration of “sincere love” returns to the issue of how we react to people who persecute us. The first Christians, of course, suffered a lot of persecution – although, at the time Romans was written, it consisted mainly of social ostracism and economic deprivation rather than physical abuse or legal measures. Therefore, the persecution that they suffered is somewhat analogous to what many of us face: scorn from those who do not share our faith and cannot (or will not) understand it; the loss of jobs because we are not willing to go along with immoral bosses; petty slights and put-downs from people who are offended at our beliefs. The requirement of sincere love in these circumstances is clear: we are to avoid retaliation and instead seek to overcome with good the evil done to us.
If the suffering and persecution Paul had in mind was not necessarily of the highest order, yet had no problem calling it persecution, then why shouldn’t we?
So yes, whilst I absolutely want to agree that to consider the sacking of a nurse of the same order as those losing their lives in the Middle East is crass and insensitive at best, let us not make the other mistake of pretending the lesser is somehow not persecution. It is indeed possible for both to be true. Whilst we do those suffering overseas, immeasurably more than we are, no favours by equating our suffering to theirs, we do our local brothers and sisters no favours by pretending what is clearly persecution is something less. By all means let’s be careful to make clear the differences, and recognise we are in no way suffering as others are, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater and pretending that what happens locally isn’t an openly hostile attack on faith, albeit an altogether easier one to contend with.