Why Cranmer is wrong on persecution

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.

  1. Persecution is that which is being carried out by Islamic State
  2. Sister Kuteh was sacked as a result of her faith which is persecution
  3. 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:

noun: persecution; plural noun: persecutions
hostility 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, torturepogrom; 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.


  1. Hmm – French Revolution, which set in place the very secularist principles on which France is built, very peaceful. Anyway, the point people are making when they talk about Western democracies who are ‘aggressively secular’ clearly are not talking about fear we will be killed. They are talking about fear of our facing the force of the law because of our beliefs, which does happen and is imposed specifically because of the secular agenda espoused.

    As for your second comment, if you really believe a Dr would give you a lethal dose of morphine because you politely declined their offer of prayer, I don’t know what planet you’re on! Why do you worry about that in respect to an open offer of prayer but you don’t feel the same way if you dare to reject the doctor’s suggestion of counselling, potentially calling his professional judgement into question? It’s really not a credible point you raise, unless you think Harold Shipman was motivated primarily by patients repeatedly rejecting his offer of prayer.

  2. Yes you can politely say no thanks and then worry about them altering the dose afterwards, its an option. No thanks, I’d rather not have religion in the surgery, if you please.

  3. Secularism is not an ideology its the lack of an ideology. You therefore cannot blame the deaths of anybody on secularism. There is no secularist creed that says “kill the disbelievers”. Communist regimes kill in the name of communism, fascist regimes kill in the name of fascism, monarchies kill in the name of monarchs and so forth. Secularism is nothing to do with it.

  4. There is lots that could be said but I’ll try and be brief and to the point:

    1. The point in the Cranmer article, with which I agree, is that it is quite easy to just say ‘no’. If one of my Muslim friends offered me prayer I’d either respectfully decline or just let them do it and not worry. In either case, it seems melodramatic to make it an issue of grave offence.

    2. Nobody was talking about having prayer “forced” upon them. Clearly that would be wholly inappropriate. What is under discussion is someone politely asking if they can pray for you, which you can equally politely say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to as is your preference. It is no different to the NHS offering counselling to you, which you can politely take or leave. Nobody is being forced by anyone to do anything, ergo there should be no problem.

    3. Your suggestion that secularism isn’t violent sounds rather like the pleas of Muslims around the world making the same charge. When you point to atrocities done in the name of their religion, anyone can shoot back Cambodia, China, Cuba, Soviet Union and the like to you (French Revolution if you prefer them older still). There are plenty of examples of secularists nations and regimes being violently aggressive as well as those rogue individuals carrying out violent attacks who subscribe to secularist principles. If we prefer to point to theocracies that are aggressively against religions other than their own, but who do not necessarily imprison and kill those who subscribe to other faiths, again secular governments have their fair share of examples too.

    4. Persecution is a term properly defined, and I offered the definition in the article. Whilst we can recognise different degrees, and levels of severity, the definition is fairly clear. Just because something is lesser in severity, and we should rightly note such differences and see that relatively there are differences, that does not mean they are not persecution. That sort of logic applied anywhere else would rightly be seen as nonsense. As long as a thief only steals a bit of stuff, rather than several banks, its not really theft. Only serial killers can truly be deemed murderers because one murder is less bad. Well less severe persecution doesn’t render something not persecution, it just means it isn’t as severe as a much worse form. I don’t really see anything all that controversial in the point if I’m honest.

  5. “And we would be right to agree for so it is.”

    I would have to disagree very strongly with you on this topic.

    The problem is that in our multi-culti society someone might be very upset if their nurse or doctor offered to pray for them. They might, for example, not be offended by a Christian prayer but on the other hand they might be very deeply offended by a Muslim prayer. They might especially be offended if they knew as some of us do, that the Koran describes THEM the disbelievers (and all of their friends and relatives who are also not of the Muslim faith), as the VILEST OF ANIMALS (Koran 8:55). We could go further and mention also how it threatens them with terror, death and mutilation (just for example of one instance – see Koran 8:12).

    Thus, the patient/doctor or patient/nurse relationship could very well be irrevocably damaged by such an offer to prayer. I think on the whole, unless you are proposing to bar those of the more violent faiths from practicing in our health service, it would be better to simply say to all the nurses and doctors, please don’t bother your patients with your 7th century (or earlier) beliefs. You speak of persecution but really it would be the patient who would be in danger of being persecuted, if they were forced to accept such “prayers” on their behalf, given the power of the doctor/nurse in this situation. It would be difficult really wouldn’t it, to say no please don’t pray for me, given that the health professional quite literally wields the power of life and death over the patient.

    By the way, I do also get really sick and tired of people talking about “aggressive secularism”. Following Bataclan and Brussels and Nice and 7/7 and 9/11 etc etc etc, I really get tired of reminding people it is not “secularism” that is aggressive, violence is almost invariably inspired by religion, when faith comes into it at all.

    No, enough of this talk of “persecution” please, let’s keep this word for the people who are really suffering in the world. There are quite enough of them to occupy our thoughts constantly, such as the Christians in Egypt who just suffered a horrific attack.

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