This story was in the news a few weeks ago. During the job interviews Charlie Storey said that “without doubt, if required to choose between his loyalty to his country and his loyalty to God, he would choose his loyalty to God whatever the outcome.” GCHQ decided not to offer him the job, quoting this and that he took drugs as a young man, leading to a drug induced psychosis, as reasons. The judge ruled that GCHQ were entitled to conclude that “the effect those [religious] beliefs might have on his [Storey’s] behaviour and judgment in the workplace” did raise national security issues.
What are we to make of this? Is it another example of the marginalisation of Christians today? Are we to keep our beliefs to ourselves? Is faith just a private thing, between the individual and God? So that it is fine to be a Christian so long as that does not affect how we behave. And is there no place for practising Christians in our Security Services?
Putting country above God could lead to the maxim “my country right or wrong”. The events of the Second World War show us that blind obedience to orders can lead to morally indefensible acts. But the Nuremburg Trials showed us that there is a legitimate appeal to a higher moral order. So what is the Christian to do?
Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments in just two sentences: Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. That second commandment definitely affects the way we behave to each other. We can see that these are not commandments of danger. For example, William Wilberforce, evangelical Christian, campaigned for the abolition of slavery. As the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship put it a few months ago, when responding to the Government’s proposals that speakers visiting universities should have their talks vetted by the university authorities “The basic tenets of the Christian faith have nothing to do with terrorism”.
In addition, the Bible tells that Christians are to obey the law, and the state. In St Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 13 he famously writes:
“Everyone must submit themselves to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
So when Mr Storey says that he would choose loyalty to God over loyalty to country, he is, perhaps unwittingly, actually saying that he will be loyal to the Government. In which case, ironically, GCHQ would be drawing the wrong conclusion that this is in some way a security risk. But what was on GCHQ’s mind, I suspect, was that Mr Storey’s assertion was an indication that he would succumb to unsafe behaviour, led by a religious “experience”, or be vulnerable to religious teaching of which GCHQ disapproves.
I have deliberately not written “extremist” teaching, because that word ducks the issue. Margaret Thatcher was extreme, so is Jeremy Corbyn. The issue is actually whether we think the views are “good”, which is a moral judgment. We, and the authorities, need to face up to that. If we use the level of acceptance of thinking (is it extreme, radical, moderate, normal?) rather than actually forming a moral judgment on the thinking (is it good or bad?) we will exclude good people from responsible roles.
People’s beliefs do affect how they behave, both religious and atheist beliefs. But to reject people because they have religious beliefs would be too simplistic an approach.