The Archbishop of Canterbury says the Government has a seriously flawed view of extremism that places Christians alongside extreme Muslim groups.
Criticising ministers and civil servants for “religious illiteracy”, Justin Welby said many assume conservative Christian believers are “a bit bonkers”.
The Archbishop also recounted a conversation where he told a politician that he was an “extremist” because he believed the “kingdom of God outweighs everything else”.
‘Trying to catch up’
He made the comments to leaders of Church of England schools as he considered the challenges they face.
“The Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, our Government generally, is desperately trying to catch up, to understand a world in which they have no grip on what it is to be religious at all”, he said.
The Archbishop added that the atmosphere in Whitehall is one “where religious illiteracy is prevalent” and where people fail to see “the difference between an extremist Muslim group like the Muslim Brotherhood and a sort of conservative evangelical group in a Church of England church”.
“They assume they’re a bit bonkers”, he said.
He then described a conversation with a politician who questioned what could be wrong with the Government’s British values drive.
The “very senior politician” said, “are you seriously going to tell me that I don’t call someone an extremist if they say that their faith is more important than the rule of law?”
He responded: “So I took a deep breath and said ‘Well, you’ve got a real problem here because for me personally my faith is more important than the rule of law so you’ve got an extremist sitting in here with you.”
He explained: “We do not believe as Christians that the rule of law outweighs everything else, we believe that the kingdom of God outweighs everything else.”
In 2015, Sir Edward Leigh MP warned that faith schools were “under attack from the forces of intolerance”, as he highlighted the treatment from Ofsted against a number of schools.
Sir Edward argued that the schools’ regulator “appears to be guilty of trying to enforce a kind of state-imposed orthodoxy on certain moral and religious questions”.
Ofsted came under fire after the introduction of new British values rules in 2014.