“Devout Christian NHS Worker Launches Appeal After Being Suspended for Inviting A Muslim Colleague to Church” (Daily Mail, April 5, 2015). “NHS Worker Who Gave Muslim Colleague Christian Book Loses Appeal Against Suspension” (Independent, April 8, 2016).1 The case of Victoria Wasteney, a Christian NHS (National Health Service) worker in London, England, made the headlines recently.
If you are like me, you are tempted to have an emotional reaction to such headlines. Online articles often have comments submitted by readers. The comments in this case were predictable. Many complained that if the situation had been reversed (if a Muslim had given a Qur’an to a Christian or invited a Christian to a mosque), the outcome would have been different. Others averred that this is another typical example of the Islamification of Europe, that Muslims have more rights than Christians. Still others insisted that all Muslims are liars, that lying is part of their religion and that they cannot be trusted. Most commentators, many of whom I assume profess some sort of Christianity, instinctively took the Christian’s side. Few, if any, took the Muslim’s side. She is, as far as the commentators are concerned, the unnamed villain of the piece. This was true in both the secular press and the Christian press. The general consensus is that this is simply another example of the persecution of Christians by the anti-Christian, secularized, politically-correct state. Then one comment caught my eye: “The notes on the case are online. You should read them before you pass judgment.”
It took me a few minutes to find, and many more minutes to read, the judgment online. I realized that it is easy to be a hasty judge, especially when we want the Christian to be right and we want the Muslim to be wrong. I also realized that judges have a very difficult and responsible job to do. All too often our knee-jerk reaction is, “The law is an ass. The judge is an idiot.” Judges, however, have to sift through reams of evidence before they reach a verdict. That evidence cannot be summarized with any degree of accuracy in a pithy headline.
The press, both secular and Christian, presented the case this way: The Christian gave a book to the Muslim and prayed with her. The Muslim complained. The Christian was suspended. Why would we not be outraged at that? However, the Muslim’s complaint and the ruling of the Employment Tribunal reveal a much more complicated story.
I quote some of the Muslim’s complaint:
My manager began to invite me to events within her church…. These invites did persist and involved weekend calls and texts…I blocked my manager from contacting me via my personal mobile phone to avoid further invites…. My manager began to provide me with DVDs and tickets to church events. I began to avoid my manager…. My manager informed me that this was an informal meeting and she wanted to discuss something important with me. My manager went on to inform me of a healing that she had set up for me at her home…. My manager informed me that only the power of Jesus could heal me…. Her specific words for me to say were “I believe you are the son [sic] of god [sic], Jesus. I believe in you and your power. Come into me and heal me…. She stated that I would have to invite Jesus to come into my spirit…. My manager also stated that she is aware many people are going to hell and how we are all given a choice and one opportunity about being saved…. I was scared and felt stuck…. I did not know what to say. I felt intimidated…. My manager gave me a book…and asked me to let her know what I thought once I finished it…. My manager then stated that she was going to pray on me. Whilst asking me if she could place her hand on my knee, she began to close her eyes, put her hand on my knee and pray aloud. Although she asked, she had already put her hand on my knee before I could respond and she had begun to pray…. She asked me once again to “ask Jesus to come into you.”… I left very quickly and felt very distressed. I walked into the toilet alongside the managerial office as I was really upset. Approximately a minute later, my manager walked into the toilets and asked, “Are you alright?” I was crying and visibly upset but stated yes at which point she walked out…. Throughout this situation, I have been afraid to discuss or highlight this to higher management. I have been intimidated and afraid.…2
Let us try to be objective. If you were a senior manager, and a junior member of staff alleged that kind of behavior against a manager under your authority, would you investigate? Is “The Christian Gave the Muslim a Christian Book” narrative an accurate portrayal of the events that took place? Is it not at least worthy of further investigation? Clearly, the Muslim could be lying, but is that credible, given the details in her complaint?
The ruling of the Employment Tribunal, which is even longer than the eight pages that the Muslim colleague submitted, reveals more details on the case, which the press failed to mention.3
First, Wasteney’s employer, the NHS Trust, permitted her church, Christian Revival Church (a Charismatic church) to provide Christian worship services for the residents of the John Howard Centre, a forensic center for mental health, where Wasteney worked in occupational therapy. However, complaints were made against Wasteney’s church that “service users were being pressurised to dance, sing and clap,” and that “they were being encouraged to donate to the [Christian Revival Church].” Following this, the church was “invited to remodel its services so that they could continue, but [they] declined to do so,” whereupon the services at the John Howard Centre were discontinued (17, 19). At that time, Wasteney “received counselling and an informal warning from [her manager]…about the boundaries between her spiritual and professional life” (19). So far was Wasteney’s employer from displaying a hostile anti-Christian attitude, that he had previously permitted her church to hold services on NHS premises, which permission was only retracted when her church overstepped the boundaries.
Second, the Muslim colleague was in the unenviable position of having Wasteney as her manager and another individual (from the same church) as her supervisor. She writes in her complaint that “I have consistently cancelled supervisions with my supervisor as he discusses God when I mention my health.” Both these individuals offered to pray with/for her, and urged her to accept Jesus. On more than one occasion, both of them were with her in the manager’s office where they exhorted her to accept Jesus for healing. Therefore, the Muslim colleague had to appeal up the chain of command to Wasteney’s manager.
Third, the HR (Human Resources) department categorized Wasteney’s conduct as “bullying and harassment” (19). The allegations amounted to “placing improper pressure on a junior member of staff” (21) and “blurring the boundaries between manager and subordinate” (22). The disciplinary panel informed Wasteney: “Everyone has their beliefs; however, the panel felt that given the seniority of your role, staff may find it difficult to refuse your invitations and discussions regarding your personal beliefs, as such professional boundaries should be maintained at all times within the workplace” (25). The conclusion of the Employment Tribunal was:
We find that any senior manager who fails to maintain an appropriate boundary between their personal beliefs and their role in the workplace such that junior employees feel under pressure to behave or think in certain ways is likely to be the subject of disciplinary proceedings (35).
It appears that Wasteney was, at the very least, overzealous in her attempts to “help” her Muslim colleague, which did not consist in explaining to her what the Christian faith is, but in attempting to heal her of her illness, Crohn’s disease, a debilitating condition of the intestines that is exacerbated by stress. Wasteney allegedly urged her Muslim colleague to pray these words: “I believe you are the Son of God, Jesus. I believe in you and your power. Come into me and heal me.” If Wasteney knows anything about Islam, she should know that the proposition “Jesus is the Son of God” is extremely offensive to a Muslim. In fact, for a Muslim to confess that Jesus is the Son of God is to commit the unforgivable sin of shirk, the sin of ascribing a partner or rival to Allah. (Of course, Islam rejects and fundamentally misunderstands the doctrine of the Trinity). No Christian should urge a Muslim to say, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” unless that Muslim has received a careful explanation of what that means.
James White, a Reformed Baptist and Christian apologist (who has debated Muslim apologists in mosques in London and South Africa), explains “shirk” in his excellent book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an:
While some Western adherents do not, many Muslims believe that the doctrine of the Trinity and, in particular, the worship of Jesus is an (unforgivable) act of shirk. This has led many of them to conclude that Christians, as a group, are bound for hell as mushrikim. This view, which is based upon a consistent reading of the Qur’an as well as many passages in the ahadith, is the most prevalent view in the Islamic world.4
How serious to a Muslim is shirk? Mohammed had a beloved uncle called Abu Talib, who died in the state of shirk. Allah supposedly gave Mohammed permission to intercede for Abu Talib. This was supposedly a “gracious exception” to the rule that one may not intercede for those who die as mushrikim. James White explains:
Abu Talib not only had helped raise him but also greatly protected him during the first period of his prophethood. According to several ahadith, as a result of the intercession, Abu Talib has the best spot in the hellfire (the place of least punishment). Details vary: In some versions he stands in shallow fire only up to his ankles; in others he must wear sandals of fire. The consistent element is that the fire is so hot that, even in hell’s least torturous spot, “his brains boil.”5
No wonder Wasteney’s Muslim colleague was upset at being asked to pray, “I believe you are the Son of God, Jesus”! If Abu Talib’s brains boil in hell with the intercession of Mohammed, how much worse punishment must the Muslim fear, who dies in the state of shirk without the intercession of Mohammed! Praise God for the effectual intercession of Jesus Christ! By all means, we must urge Muslims to believe in Jesus, but we must lay the necessary foundation by explaining the gospel. Wasteney appears not to have done that. Instead, she urged her colleague to accept Jesus for healing, which is not untypical for certain kinds of Charismatics.
Victoria Wasteney is, undoubtedly, sincere. It is not my contention that she was at all malicious in her approach to her Muslim colleague. The word “bully,” which suggests deliberate malice, is inappropriate. She thought she was acting appropriately. She genuinely cared for her colleague’s physical and spiritual wellbeing. She did not realize that she was making her Muslim colleague uncomfortable. And she behaved this way over a prolonged period of time. Nevertheless, if I had been in a similar position, I might well have also made a complaint.
I write this to remind us of several things. First, do not judge a story by its headline (). If at all possible, try to find primary sources. Second, do not look for persecution everywhere. Not all suffering of Christians can be traced to persecution. Sometimes Christians suffer because they behave foolishly ( ). Third, it is not the calling of Christians in the workplace to seek to win their work colleagues to Christ. It is the calling of Christians to work in the workplace. While we take every opportunity to witness to family, friends, colleagues, fellow students, and others, we need wisdom to draw boundaries. At work, we are not on our own time, but on our employer’s time: he is not paying us to proselytize. Fourth, and finally, as Christians we need to beware of real Islamophobia. We will never win Muslims if we behave as online commentators do, many of whom are trolls. Not all Muslims are the same. The command to love our neighbor applies also to our Muslim neighbors. We may not misrepresent them, twist their words, or slander them.
Let me finish by paraphrasing Paul: “To the Muslim became I as a Muslim, that I might gain the Muslim: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (see).
1 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3026259/Devout-Christian-NHS-worker-launches-appeal-suspended-inviting-Muslim-colleague-church.html; http://www.independent.co.uk/ news/uk/home-news/nhs-worker-who-gave-muslim-colleague-christian-book-loses-appeal-against-suspension-a6974036.html.
2 Unfortunately, the only place I could find a copy of the Muslim’s complaint was on the National Secular Society, a group with whose aims I obviously have no sympathy. http://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/wasteney-susbordinatescomplaint-john-howardcentre.Pdf
3 https://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/wasteney-et-ruling.pdf. The page numbers are taken from this document.
4 James R. White, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 68.
5 White, 122.