Accepted Paper:

'Wearing a cross doesn't make you a Christian': theologies of 'religious' jewellery among English evangelicals  

Author:

Meadhbh McIvor (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on dual-sited fieldwork split between a Christian lobby group and a conservative evangelical church in London, UK, this paper uses intra-Christian disagreement over the legitimacy of 'religious' jewellery to explore the twin theological categories of grace and law.

Paper long abstract:

The past decade has seen a rise in Christian-interest litigation in the English courts, with increasing numbers of conservative Christians taking to law to frame themselves as the victims of 'secular intolerance'. While many of these cases centre on gender and sexuality, others have involved the 'right' to wear religious jewellery - including cross necklaces and purity rings - in breach of official uniform policies. Drawing on dual-sited fieldwork split between a Christian lobby group and a conservative evangelical church, this paper uses intra-Christian disagreement over the legitimacy of 'religious' jewellery to explore the twin theological categories of grace and law. For Christian activists, these cases function as proof of the legal system's discriminatory approach to Christianity, which, by virtue of its antinomian approach to religious dress - that is, because Protestants are not required to wear certain clothes to achieve salvation - allows the courts to deny evangelicals the right to wear religious jewellery. For evangelicals on the ground, however, these cases are problematic precisely because they seem to imply that one needs to wear a religious symbol to be a Christian, thereby conflating grace and law and misrepresenting the faith to outsiders. The paper concludes that the court's failure to appreciate the role of materiality in maintaining even that most Protestant of virtues - sincerity, or the alignment of thought, word and deed - is evidence of the problematic nature of 'legal religion', in which the law, by policing the legitimate limits of religion, defines it out of recognition.

Panel P007
Aesthetics and the making of religious collectivities