Christians are increasingly concerned about government plans to crack down on “non-violent extremism” after an opinion poll found that nearly a third of people said Jesus Christ was an “extremist”.
The poll carried out by ComRes for the Evangelical Alliance also found that nearly half of the people interviewed believed that it was extremism to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman only.
Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, which represents some two million Evangelicals, said: “The language of extremism is a recipe for chaos and division.
“This poll shows the scale of moral confusion in our society with the public having no way of deciding whether something is extreme or not.
“It also shows the division that might ensue if the Government persists in trying to use extremism as a way of regulating peaceful ideas in society.
“Detached from terrorism and incitement to violence, extremism does not work as a litmus test for judging peaceful beliefs and opinions.
“Indeed, the Government has tried and failed over the last two years to define extremism with any precision and this poll shows that the public share that confusion.”
In one discovery, the poll of 2,004 people found that 28 per cent considered Jesus Christ to be an extremist.
Thirteen per cent thought that the Dalai Lama could be considered an extremist, 20 per cent said Gandhi could be considered an extremist while 25 per cent thought that Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela could be considered extremists.
A total of 41 per cent of those polled said that people who believed in traditional marriage were extremists.
The poll also found that 48 per cent of people did not think the abolition of the monarchy was extreme, while the same proportion said it was not extreme to give animals the same rights as human beings.
The survey comes just weeks after the Government’s announcement of a Commission for Countering Extremism not only to combat Islamist ideology but also “to support the Government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread”.
The churches have been highly sceptical about the efficacy of a strategy to combat the spread of ideas considered as extremist given the subjective and changing nature of how extremism can be defined.
Some Christian groups have already complained that measures taken to combat the spread of radical Islam have been used as a pretext to impose secularist ideologies on children in church schools.
They fear more interference in Christian institutions and churches if new powers are misused against peaceful organisations that do not share the emerging values of the secular state.
Dr Landrum said: “The Government has failed to define extremism, and the public is clearly divided about which ideas are extremist.
“It therefore seems unlikely that a newly-established quango, such as an extremism commission, will solve such problems.
“It is not wise to foster a society where volatile public opinion can be used to determine what might be extreme or acceptable views.”