I learnt to restrain myself when my team scored and to sing the chants in my head. The idea of hiding this part of my life away at moments like this wasn’t particularly difficult, but it did take the edge off the experience. Earlier this summer, a new survey by Premier, involving around 12,000 respondents, suggested that for many young people the need to hide their Christian faith is becoming more and more necessary. Around three in ten 15-24-year-olds said they can’t be open about their faith at school, university or work. Alongside that figure, around 65 per cent claimed to have personally suffered prejudice because of their faith. Why are our young people feeling the need to hide what many would describe as the most important aspect of their very being?
Premier Youth and Children’s Work investigates.
Responding to the State of the Faith survey, Premier’s CEO, Peter Kerridge, said: "It’s clear that we are not the liberal, accepting society we think we are if we don’t tolerate and accept everyone, including Christians. This is not the clergy talking, or academics theorising, or politicians making a case. These are ordinary Christians who feel overwhelmingly that their Christian beliefs are being marginalised and that, as a result, it is becoming far more difficult to live as a young person of faith in the UK."
There was a general feeling among respondents that the Christian faith wasn’t getting a fair deal from society.
Around eight in ten young people felt Christianity in the UK as a whole was being marginalised.
Campaign group Christian Concern campaigns on this issue and its sister organisation, the Christian Legal Centre, offers legal help to Christians who feel they have been unfairly treated because of their faith. Speaking to
YCW, Tim Dieppe from Christian Concern said the results resonate with the organisation’s experiences. "People try and say that our cases are the exception," he said. "I think what the research shows is that it’s the tip of the iceberg, and actually underlying this there is a very strong ground swell of feeling and experience of prejudice or marginalisation."
That view is shared by Nola Leach, chief executive of Care, a Christian group that lobbies politicians. She agrees that there are "worrying signs" that Christian viewpoints are being side-lined. "Partly because of illiteracy and partly because of those who have a very different agenda, we may be moving into a period when debate is shut down; where you can’t have an honest debate and agree to differ."
What does this mean for our young people who fear ridicule or being ostracised if people know they attend church or that faith is important to them? The big concern is that if they can’t be open about faith while they’re young, what chance do they have as they move into the next stage of their lives?
Nims Obunge is a London pastor who campaigns for peace against a backdrop of rising youth crime in the capital. Speaking to
YCW, he said there is only one solution to supporting young people: "No matter how much it looks as if we’re living in a liberal society, that liberal society has spiritual opposition. So I think we have to go to our knees in prayer."
Are perceptions among Christians of marginalisation a perfect reflection of reality? Not everyone thinks so. Media commentator Andrew Graystone argues that Christians have enormous freedom to operate and to act in the UK: "Nobody stops Christians from meeting together. Nobody stops Christians from standing for parliament. Nobody stops Christians from talking about their faith."
Responding to the survey results, the government said it was committed to supporting the Christian community. Lord Bourne, minister for faith and integration, said: "The Christian faith contributes a huge amount to our communities and allows other faith groups to flourish. We’ve been clear that people need to be able to feel strong in their religious identities and are making sure that the voices of people of faith are heard in government."
These seem to be two very different takes on one issue. We can’t escape the fact that there are huge numbers of young people who find it difficult to live out their faith in today’s society. However, at the same time we do live in a country rooted in Christianity, with many rights given to us.
Our job as youth and children’s workers isn’t to pretend there are no problems, but to build within our children and young people a strong identity that they don’t feel the need to hide.
As our children return to our groups, filled up from the various summer camps and festivals, going back to normality at school, university or work won’t be easy. But in a new term, what a great opportunity for them to take their summer experiences and share that with friends. Let’s walk with them as they do that.
Premier has launched a campaign to enable ‘ordinary Christians’ to live out their faith in an increasingly secular world. To find out more visit