It is a mistake to lump all world religions into the same bucket. Are we learning yet? It appears not.
At the beginning of December, a report on “religion and belief in British public life” was published by the Woolf Institute. This organisation is dedicated to encouraging inter-faith dialogue between the different religious groups in Britain. Their report says that – Britain is no longer a Christian country, so Christianity should not be given priority in public life. Faith schools should be abolished, thought for the day on the radio should be opened to atheists, the next coronation should have input from other religious groups…and so on. Because the vast majority of people in our nation don’t regularly attend church…the Woolf Institute say we need to abandon our society’s Christian foundations.
Okay – there’s some truth here that I know this as a Pastor and a Christian for over 40 years. I know very well that the vast majority of British people do not align themselves with a local church. I agree with them on that. I also agree that there are many benefits to a multi-cultural society, which should be celebrated and protected. But what I don’t agree with – is their next recommendation. Which is to abandon Britain’s Christian roots.
Why don’t I agree with them? Because I’m a Christian and so I’m blinded by my bias? No – because I know how much light that Jesus Christ gives to each person stumbling in the darkness. Myself included. But yes – you’ve got me – I have a perspective on Christianity informed by both my life and from the lives of others. But my disagreement with the Woolf report also comes from historical realities…the part Christianity has played in the establishment of Christian Britain. It has been absolutely foundational.
I do not agree we should abandon this Christian foundation. Because as I read their report, what the report does not do…is describe what should replace those foundations. They have no idea! But the priority seems to be side-lining Christianity from public life. Call me old and “stuck in the past”, but don’t you think someone needs to decide ahead of time what will go in the place of our Christian foundations…so that we can decide whether it’s a good idea and whether we want that? Or is everyone happy just to stumble forward into the darkness together?
Does Britain have a Christian foundation? Well – let me ask another question. Did you notice what both the British Monarch and the Prime Minister said in their Christmas addresses this year? The Queen reminded us that, “Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another….and to look for ways of spreading that love to others.” And then she quotes an old saying. “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
The Prime Minister was even more “on the nose” with his Christmas speech. “As a Christian country, we must remember what [Jesus’] birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope….it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.”
I think they are right. But an honest look at British history would confirm it. Jesus – his life, his words and his church have been foundational to the British nation thus far.
One of the brilliant things about Britain is our diverse, varied society. It makes for a rich tapestry of life. Every part of our society has the potential to make a positive contribution. But the foundation of this country is and has been the message of the Christian Gospel. It is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. This was God’s plan all along.
“The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:9
Jesus lights up the darkness for everyone, whatever our background. Whatever our life experiences have been so far.
There are those who want to stuff that light into a bag jumbled full of all sorts of religions and worldviews. What effect will that have on our country? I honestly don’t think they have considered that question. Can I suggest it’s only going to deepen the darkness and the confusion in our nation?
All religions are not the same. Look at them. They all make contradictory claims about God and the nature of life. Purely at the factual level…the religions are incompatible. And yet they do have at least one important place of overlap. One person who they all appeal to in greater or lesser degrees. And that’s the person Jesus Christ. Everyone wants Jesus on their side. All the religions do. Hey – I even know atheists who also want Jesus on their side!
Here’s my point. Britain has looked to Jesus Christ for its foundations. It has been part of our genius. Are we really sure we want to turn that light off now? Are we sure we want to replace him with secular humanism? To open ourselves up to the sole foundation of the checks and balances of purely human government? Which has a habit of deciding for each of us what is ultimately right – and then forcefully imposing it on us using their might? Personally – I would rather we stuck with the Jesus who changes hearts by his love and grace.
Britain is a country where different faith systems can flourish. Christianity has been the foundation for that to happen. It creates an environment where people can exercise free will, while also giving people the choice whether or not to follow Christ. Don’t believe me? Check out other countries where Christianity has not been the foundation. I’m proud to be a citizen of a country where I can discuss matters of faith and belief with people of other religions and those with none.
I would suggest…that this sort of open and affirming foundation is one of the things that has made Britain great. So let’s keep it that way.