Christians are often assumed to be homophobic, reactionary misogynists, as soon as they mention their faith in Jesus, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Rowan Williams, who is the current master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, told the student newspaper that he did not feel Christians were persecuted in the UK but he felt "a certain amount of petty harassment".
Ignorance of the faith, Williams said, was to blame. "People are simply less familiar with faith. In the 19-35 age bracket, exposure to Christianity is very very low. At the same time, I don’t experience a great public hostility towards Christianity. When people encounter it there’s often a sort of not unfriendly curiosity.
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"It may be culturally a bit difficult for some people to say ‘I’m a Christian’, partly because people will then say ‘Oh, you’re some sort of homophobic, misogynistic reactionary are you?’ which isn’t very encouraging.
"I think there’s a temptation to over exaggerate how difficult it can be – but the other side of me says, well, if it’s difficult, it’s difficult.
"From the very beginning, there have been no guarantees that expressing the values of the gospels was going to be popular."
In August, the former Archbishop said at the Edinburgh International Book Festival that Western Christians need to "grow up" and stop complaining of "persecution".
Williams was replaced as leader of the Church of England by the then Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Justin Welby in March 2013.
Williams also admitted that he feared his tenure as Archbishop was marred by debate over sexuality. "I think the church has to put its hands up and say our attitude towards gay people has at times been appallingly violent," he said.
"Even now it can be unconsciously patronising and demeaning, and that really doesn’t help.
"We have to face the fact that we’ve deeply failed a lot of gay and lesbian people, not only historically but more recently as well. I think that there is a very strong, again theological, case for thinking again about our attitudes towards homosexuality: but I’m a bit hesitant about whether marriage is the right category to talk about same sex relation, and I think there is a debate we haven’t quite had about that.
"But in a sense that’s water under the bridge, the decision has been taken, things move on. Looking back over my time as Archbishop I think that’s what most people will remember about the last ten years: ‘oh, he was that bloke who was so bogged down in issues about sexuality’."
Last December, the Archbishop admitted he believed that the debate over women bishops, a measure rejected by the Church of England Synod, had "damaged the credibility" of the church.