Earlier this year Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali sparked a controversy when he declared that Islamism is filling the void left by Britain's abandonment of its Christian roots, to the point that some parts of the UK are now "no-go areas" for non-Muslims. Recent events vividly underscore his message.
Last February a pair of Baptist missionaries distributing leaflets in Birmingham, England, encountered an apparent no-go area firsthand — with police serving as its enforcers:
Two Christian preachers were stopped from handing out Bible extracts by police because they were in a Muslim area, it was claimed yesterday.
They say they were told by a Muslim police community support officer that they could not preach there and that attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity was a hate crime.
The community officer is also said to have told the two men: "You have been warned. If you come back here and get beat up, well, you have been warned."
The preachers — Americans who are longtime residents of the UK — contend that such treatment violated their rights of religious expression: "This is a free country and to suggest we were guilty of a hate crime for spreading God's word is outrageous."
Yet even the Church of England now cautions against exercising such rights. When Nazir-Ali recently suggested that a strategy for proselytizing Muslims be adopted, his comments were met with scorn from senior clerics. Bishop Stephen Lowe said:
Both the bishop of Rochester's reported comments and the synod private members' motion show no sensitivity to the need for good interfaith relations. … This demand for the evangelization of people of other faiths contributes nothing to our communities.
Two points: First, evangelization is a central element of free societies, in which people can believe as they desire, invite neighbors to their faith, and decline the overtures of others. Second, if Lowe truly holds that promoting his religion "contributes nothing to our communities," then a bishopric might not be the ideal position for him.
Does the no-proselytizing policy result from concern for the physical safety of Christian preachers and potential apostates from Islam? Or is it just another example of centuries-old traditions being discarded under the rubric of multiculturalism?
Unfortunately, neither bodes well for the future of freedom — religious or otherwise.