Clearing the Ground a review – part 4: If the Church doesn’t defend liberty and justice, who will?

Section 4. What should Christians do?

This is the final part of the review of the Clearing the Ground report published by Christians in Parliament on the 27th February 2012.  You can read part one of the report review HERE, part two HERE and part three HERE.

Following on from section 3, which looked at practical ways in which the problems faced by Christians can be addressed at a political level, the final part of the report turns its attention to the steps that churches, Christian organisations and individual Christians can take in order to respond to the challenges they face.

The report is keen to point out that though its findings point to the increased marginalisation of Christians in the UK, compared to the persecution and suffering faced by millions of Christians around the world, Christians have a great deal of freedom to practise their faith in this country.  According to the Bible, Christians should not be surprised when their values lead to tension, misrepresentation and even opposition.

In order to avoid a wholly critical tone, all the submissions to the inquiry were asked to outline their vision for society:

‘All those who gave evidence saw the place of Christianity as being neither private, nor privileged.  Contributors also agreed that plural society is a good thing which provides a framework of interaction for groups to show sufficient respect and tolerance of each other. This allows us to fruitfully coexist and interact without conflict or assimilation and it was generally appreciated as a biblically consistent way to organise society – and something worth defending.’

‘Such a view is outlined by Lord Carey:  “This is the nature of the Church in a democracy – not to be the dominant voice, but to earn the right to be heard through its experience, its witness, and the quality of its extensive thinking about the common good.”’

Along with criticism of the growing acceptance of secularist values in law, the inquiry also found that there was acknowledgement among those giving evidence that Christians have been complicit in creating the problems of marginalisation.  One of the main reasons cited was the poor preparation of Christian leaders to engage in public life.

“We are getting to a point where the unintended consequences of well intended positions have caused a problematic situation. We want equality, and have bought into society’s arguments in favour of equality. This has had the unintended consequence of eroding society. It means that society no longer functions well…  Some of the issues which are always presented in individualistic terms have social consequences which are detrimental to the wellbeing of all. We face a major challenge about how to tell our story in a way which is about the common good.” (Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, Church of England)

As part of the Clearing the Ground inquiry, all witnesses were also asked the question: ‘What is the biggest challenge facing Christians in the UK today?’  Dr Peter Saunders, Director of the Christian Medical Fellowship captured the common sentiments expressed:

“The challenge is always to live in obedience to Jesus Christ, in fulfilling his great commission and his great commandment. I think that we are living in a society which has changed from having a predominantly Christian theist worldview, to one where secular-humanism and indeed more recently the new atheism is becoming more prominent…  We live also in a much more multicultural society with people of other faiths and alternative world views. I think that inevitably has created some pressure points.”

Christians cannot expect the government or someone else to fix these issues. The Church has a duty to disciple Christians to lead lives that are authentic to the teachings of Jesus.  This is a priority that needs addressing with all the Church’s energy and resources.

There is a Biblical responsibility for Christians to proclaim the gospel, challenge injustice and to speak out for those without a voice.  However at times Christian campaigning can come across as reactionary, amateur and aggressive, exacerbating the problems that are being opposed.  The report urges groups that take claims of Christian discrimination to court to first reflect upon the impact that their actions might have upon politics, public opinion, other Christian public policy groups, and Christian confidence.  Closer ties need to be developed between such organisations, and others in the Christian sphere to ensure campaigns are effective and broadly supported.

The consequences of continually drawing attention to alleged discrimination against Christians, can be that the public perception of the situation is worse than it really is and Christian withdrawal from public life through disillusionment and misinformation.  Any embellishing or exaggerating of the facts can quickly bring Christianity into disrepute.

‘Christians should act and speak with integrity at all times, and when representing the Church to the world or communicating secular issues to the Church, they should speak with professionalism, accuracy and grace. The assumption of a martyr position can appear laudable, but is often a lazy mode of public engagement.’

A major theme of the inquiry was to not only identify problems and potential solutions for Christians in public life but also to affirm the role of faith and the place of Christianity in society.  Christians need to become effective at responding to the challenges they face in society and to be able to demonstrate a positive vision for it:

“I think the vision was best expressed by Augustine who contrasted two cities, the earthly city and the heavenly city; and Christians are primarily citizens of the heavenly city, a spiritual dimension to life which is not captured by the governments of this age or the powers of this age. But we do have a responsibility toward the earthly city which is to seek its good and to seek its welfare.” (Professor Julian Rivers)

‘Too often the Church can be defined by what it opposes, instead of what it proposes. It is essential that Christians articulate a vision for society that goes beyond defending their own interests and is seen to be for the good of all.’

Over the course of the previous century, the Church has lost much of its power and influence.  However, Christians of all denominations are becoming increasingly aware of the need to engage with communities, our nation and the world. This means moving beyond Church services and buildings and looking outwards.  Such a shift is already having a transforming effect in many deprived parts of the country.  There is a vast undercurrent of Christians living out their faith in society, but much of it goes unnoticed.

‘It is perhaps understandable that Christians are sometimes reluctant to publicise their activities, achievements and social contributions. This is probably related to scriptural injunctions for humility and to not boast about good deeds. However, if freedoms for Christians are to be preserved and the socio-political role of the faith is to be properly valued, it is important that Christians increase their voice and volume about what they contribute to society. This positive messaging should always eclipse what is spoken against in society.’

In the final summary of the report it is noted that in addition to specific legal and political problems, there exists a wider cultural challenge relating to the way that religion makes truth claims that are absolute.  All beliefs (including atheism) claim absolutes.  Therefore in a society with multiple beliefs, there will always be a conflict between the views and values which exist.  David Cameron is then quoted:

“We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so… the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend…

The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option… Put simply for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong. ‘Live and let live’ has too often become ‘do what you please’. Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles. To be confident in saying something is wrong, is not a sign of weakness. It’s a strength. But we can’t fight something with nothing. As I’ve said if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything… those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code…

I believe the Church – and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain – have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this.”

The freedoms that Christians enjoy in our society are largely a result of the influence of those who have gone before working for liberty and justice.  These freedoms are worth defending. They enable the proclamation of the gospel and its practical outworking in people’s lives across our country. Christians need to make the most of these freedoms and engage their faith fully and confidently. Being distinctive in the outworking of their faith, Christians, must work for the good of society, and towards one that is truly respectful of different beliefs.  This is the concluding paragraph:

‘‘Gospel’ means good news. Christians in the UK have the privilege and responsibility to defend the freedoms that the gospel proposes and requires. We hope that the Clearing the Ground inquiry will help Christians: to live out their faith without coercion or compromise; to continue to make immense practical contributions to the wellbeing of communities; and to speak out the good news of Jesus Christ with confidence and grace.’

The challenge of Clearing the Ground is well laid out for Christians.  It’s no good just sitting in the church pews and expecting God or the government to sort things out.  Christians have the most amazing message for our nation.  God’s values bring freedom, justice and hope.  It’s something to be confident of and certainly not ashamed.  If Christians take on a victim mentality and just try building defences to stop the tide of secularism, then the church has failed in its duty to everyone.

I admire those Christians who live out their faith in the public arena, whether they be politicians, business leaders, journalists, or others.  You are an easy target for those who misguidedly believe that religion has nothing to offer society, but if Christians are not in the public arena bringing the example of Jesus into the ‘world’ then how is anyone going to know the transformational difference God’s values can make to individuals’ lives and society as a whole.

Christians need to speak up when they believe society is going in the wrong direction, but we need to put in a lot more effort giving our country hope for a better future.  The question is where do we go from here?  This blog is my attempt to address the issue.  I quoted this passage in my very first post:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

The thought of Christians uniting to offer our nation a better vision excites me beyond words.  Let’s go to God and see where he wants to take us.

You can read the full Clearing the Ground report, executive summary and contributions HERE.



Categories: Church, Faith in society, Parliament

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8 replies

  1. David Cameron stated:
    “We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so… the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend…”

    Kerchung! We are not a Christian country. The Bible which is both of Judaism and Christian background helped give Britain a set of values to work by. It was not morals people mainly lived by but the ethical dogma forced upon them; and also through the do as I say but not do as I do syndrome, something David Cameron should read about and practice.

    Morals were always the sole predisposition of the individual and they were punished by sheer brute force and trated as sub-human if they were not seen to be acting out the Biblical ethical – moral – practices. Enforced by religious elites, backed by political elites, then enforced by political elites and backed by religious elites, the ordinary folk were subject to first prosecution then by an attempt by the church to suppress them from having access to the Bible – I know this was Catholic orientated, but even now there are some Christian leaders who try to discourage radical thinking by the ordinary folk, and through the use of bibliolatry.

    The 2001 census showed that 70 percent stated they were Christian. For most that was the same as stating they were Church of England, and thinking, “Whatever that means”. Why? Because most were not Christian believers as adhered to by the Anglican Church, Catholic Church or Evangelical practicing Christians. Many just said what they had been brought up to say – Church of England for instance. If Christian illiteracy is behind the so called marginalisation of those of a Christian faith now, then the same illiteracy is behind those census figures.

    I am NOT saying that the Jewish and Christian faith as propositioned in the Bible has not had a benefit on society in the West. That would be ignorant of me. But that does not mean that all and sundry are Christian and that the UK or just Britain is a Christian nation all singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak. Most of the values and morals are good from the Bible. Most people act out through those values and morals. But they do not all do so as Christians, which is what being a Christian nation would imply with a very small minority being ‘other’.

    It might well benefit all if the government got out of religion and religion as a structure got out of government. Individuals working out and living their faith within this multicultural and secular country would be far more contented and able to interact if both the government and the long ago government established church in 1530 under King Henry VIII – though as the BBC site states, “The Church of England traces its roots back to the early church, but its specifically Anglican identity and its links to the State date back to the Reformation”, – stopped and realised that the majority of people in the UK, let alone Britain, do not want to go to church or have church dogmatics enforced or applied against or to them. Most also would rather the government ministers who profess to be Christians, acted out their so called Christian faith by acting according to their faith. Not by enforcement but by being seen to be Christian by their behaviour. So no David Cameron we are not a Christian nation, if we ever really were.

    As I said before, I do hope comon sense will prevail. The report under review is understandably pro-Christian. But I feel a more open debate would be beneficial, and not just between the Christian orthodox evangelical groups and the orthodox atheist groups who will only end up snarling at each other, but as this would bring religion, ethics, morals and political power into the real world of everyday folk.

    • I think it is hard to argue that Britian is a Christian country in a literal sense. Perhaps it would be better put to say that Britain is a historically Christian country. I would still argue that we are a nominally Christian country. Given that David Cameron is pretty much a nominal Christian, his statement is not entirely surprising.

      I would say that most of this country’s frameworks are predominantly Christian. And the influence of Christian belief over the past few centuries has moulded it hugely. To answer whether this is a Christian country will depend on your definition of Christian, your beliefs and your understanding of history. It’s not easy to tie this down, but is it any more right to say this is a secular or agnostic country as opposed to being a Christian one?

      • A country that has been influenced by Judaism-Christianity as the Bible is both a Jewish and Christian compilation. I would say Britain is a secular country with a Christian based history that has evolved through the theocratic establishment and political establishment over the ages. There was and is much said and done that has and is causing human right violations and insitement to hatred by certain Christian clergy, and of course much death and destruction in the past was inflicted at the bequest of Christian clerics. The recent emotional rhetoric by the Catholic and Anglican church clerics over the same-sex marriage situation shows that they would rather be in the theocratic dominated realm. We have seen the position of LGBT minorities in Iran and Pakistan, in the African Anglican led countries. A law might be an blow to the religious held beliefs of Christians, but it is preferable to a dogmatic and theocratic led country. At least we, at the moment have choices, and remember that historically marriage was not instigated by Jewish-Christian instigation’s, there has always been a form of marriage instigated and overseen by tribal leaders or a state – both pagan and secular.

        As for nominal Christian, what in reality does that mean? A nice sound bite, like Big Society, but no reality of context: A nominal Christian is one who says he/she is a Christian, but does not possess a trusting, faithful, dependent relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ; relationship made possible by Christ’s propitiation on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit to those predestined by God the Father. The church attendance of a nominal Christian is not relevant to whether they are nominal or not; a nominal Christian can attend church weekly or rarely. A nominal Christian may undertake religious activities (especially at Christmas/Easter), and proclaim fellowship with followers of Jesus (for example, through being a “member” of a church), but in their heart they will possess apathy or even unbelief toward the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_a_nominal_ChristianSo I guess we can say it is an irrelevant and meaningless statement of being. I would prefer to accept a human and civil rights agenda than a theocratic dogmatic one. After all it is through choice not prohibition that real free will is all about. The law must of course be fair to all. If the law is unfair to Christians then the proof must be produced. Two people of the same-sex getting married will not bring down the human race as we know it and it will not give grief to all Christians – only upset some Christians sensibilities related to their faith.

        • I agree that a nominal Christian is actually not a Christian by definition. Richard Dawkins got very upset about this a few weeks ago complaining that many people who call themselves Christians actually aren’t. He was pretty much right. However, many people do have some sort of loose belief that Christianity has some truth even if they’re not fully paid up Christians. Many people find comfort and identity in our Christian heritage even if they have very little understanding of what true Christianity is. I think this is the approach to Christianity that David Cameron relates to.

          I don’t think that many Christians would want a theocratic society. True Christianity is a religion that deliberately doesn’t force itself down people’s throats, rather it acts within the societies that believers live in. This is the problem for church leaders at the moment. They have strong views as to what is best according to their faith, but they have very little power in the public realm to stop changes happening even if they strongly believe it will make our country a worse place. The gay marriage debate is a real test of their influence revealing whether society chooses to follow them or those with other agendas.

  2. Yes i feel a sense of excitement too for what can be achieved in the future. We have the blessing of living in a plural society and part of our anxiety about secularisation is, will that plural framework be there for the future ? We can earn the right to have a voice and make a positive contribution to society and show more people what a relationship with Jesus feels like. So the space is important We are walking into a dimly lit room, at first we might think the coiled up thing in the corner is a venomous snake and be frightened that it will kill us. On closer inspection it is merely a pile of rope. Are we to allow the rope to tie us down ? Becoming more engaged is vital and i agree that church without walls is the pro active way forward. We can see churches beginning to work more closely with other community groups. More community based worship. New Community projects. I was very encouraged at the first Theos debate to hear how various faith groups are working together for the common good. I am very much looking forward to spring harvest to hear of postive developments and how church is being done elsewhere in the U.K. A cross pollination of creative ideas can be an encouragement to help us present that positive message and serve more effectively. We do need workers to make these things happen. New Christian workers are less likely to appear though in a society where Christianity is discredited for whatever reason. Each church needs to have a plan to engage with our communities rather than be a comfortable private club. If we are to criticise society then it also needs to be based on evidence otherwise it just appears to be a moralistic Christian rant. So many aspects of modern culture are clearly harmful and a light is needed, to shine in those very dark areas. Vision and purpose in Christ.

  3. I completely agree with you Graham. We have a gospel that needs to be heard, but we need to earn the right to share it by offering society something better, rather than just appearing to complain and criticise constantly.

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