Is a muscular defence of our national Judaeo-Christian heritage needed?

Fighter JesusAnother week goes by and a few more political types have decided to give their opinion on the state of Christianity in our country. It certainly is reassuring to know that if by chance the Archbishop of Canterbury misses his return flight in future after attending another international gathering of church leaders, UKIP leader, Nigel Farage is on hand to step in and give the Church of England some advice to keep it on the straight and narrow.

Farage in an interview with the Telegraph last weekend was more than willing to give Justin Welby a bit of help:

“We need a much more muscular defence of our Judaeo-Christian heritage. Yes, we’re open to different cultures but we have to defend our values. That’s the message I want to hear from the Archbishop of Canterbury and from our politicians. Anything less is appeasement of the worst kind.” 

The actual tenets of the Christian faith appear to be of little interest to Mr Farage given that he reportedly only attends church only four or five times a year. Instead it is about “our identity”. As a nation, a society and a culture, we have little choice but to face the onslaught of a combination of multiculturalism and secularism that is redefining what it means to be British. The inevitable identity crisis that we are working through has led to a reaction from some desperate to hang on to a certain form of Britishness that in many ways Nigel Farage’s UKIP has embodied. It harks back to Jerusalem’s green and pleasant land where everyone gets along nicely because everyone is more than happy to be a cultural Anglican sharing in the values of tolerance and fairness with an appreciation of British tradition and occasional church attendance. And Mr Farage is far from being alone in holding these views.

On the same day as his interview was published and proving again that the current government does ‘do God’, Baroness Warsi, the first faith minister also made some comments covering the same theme. In another Telegraph interview, the country’s most senior Muslim politician came to the defence of our Christian heritage as she has done on previous occasions:

“We are not the US and we are not France we are a very different nation and I just think that we need that gentle relationship with faith having a space in the public sphere,” she said.

She also warned against an “obsession” with symbols such as crosses and veils rather than discussing faith itself.

“I think we do become quite obsessed with the minutia rather than the basis of what most faiths are about which is to be a good person and do good things for society,” she said.

Despite evidence of declining public affiliation to the Church of England, she insisted she had “no doubts whatsoever” about maintaining its position as the Established Church.

Describing the CofE as a “bedrock” of society, she brushed off suggestions that other faiths could be given automatic seats in the Lords alongside the bishops.

“I think at the moment the system works,” she said.

“We have an Established Church, it does have a unique position, it has an obligation to all of its parishioners irrespective of their faith so it has a unique role to those beyond just its own faith group, I think it is an incredibly positive aspect of our life in Britain and long may it continue.”

You might think that some of our more well-known atheists might have slightly less favourable things to say about our Christian roots, but they seem to be in no mood to have them ripped up and shredded. Instead Polly Toynbee lamented yesterday the fact that in schools, ‘The Bible has all but gone in a generation, a deep cultural loss: apart from the nativity, there is no common reference point, no chill to the marrow at God telling Abraham to cut his son’s throat, no common understanding of a reference to Lazarus.’ Even atheism’s self-appointed high priest, Richard Dawkins admitted in his recent autobiography that he feels ‘Anglican nostalgia, especially when you look at the competition’. He also said that he would feel ‘deprived’ if the Church of England disappeared: ‘I’m kind of grateful to the Anglican tradition for its benign tolerance. I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don’t believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy, as I do… I suppose I’m a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green. I have a certain love for it.’

So we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation where there is still a great fondness for Christianity albeit in a watered down form. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope continue to receive plenty of media attention and issues of faith still make the front pages of the newspapers. But at the same time that many want to hold on to some elements of Christian tradition that give comfort and security, the courts and politicians are giving little acknowledgement to the Christian moral framework that provided the foundations for many of our laws. Tolerance of multiculturalism has too often become a hypersensitive intolerance of anything that might be construed as offensive such as simple expressions of faith in the workplace. Militant secularist groups add to the pressure on religion and Christianity in particular by attacking anything that is seen to constitute religious privilege through the legal system from faith schools to free car parking for church attenders.

All the while as the voices of those on the outside feel the need to say how the Church should be managing its business, it sits in the middle with the important job, not of appeasing Nigel Farage or the National Secular Society, but ploughing ahead in the pursuit of doing God’s will.

Cultural Christianity still maintains a great deal of value in providing a common bond that gives our society a solid grounding. It makes sense for the Church to work with those who see it as a friend and to remind our society that just because it is accepting of those from different backgrounds with differing beliefs (as it should be), it does not mean that the ‘bedrock’ as Baroness Warsi puts it, should be kicked away and replaced with a secular theology where all gods are both equal and meaningless. If the perfectly good moral compass of Christianity is rejected, who then is given the moral authority to decide what should replace it? Sir James Munby? Russell Brand?

In response, it might look like the Church ought to be making a priority of advocating cultural Christianity/Anglicanism, but what would Jesus say? It’s not religion, it is what its label says it is, i.e. culture. It has very little to do with any form of Christianity that you find in the Bible. It only exists because Christianity played such a key role in the formation of this nation as we know it and now centuries on we are living in the fading afterglow. For the Church to hold on to this tightly would be to cling to the past without any hope for the future. It would be no better trying to fight the tide of secular legislation through the courts. It would be self-defeating.

Instead if we want to see the Church at its most valuable both to its members and this nation then it needs to be doing what caused Britain to be a Christian nation in the first place. It was those who passionately followed Jesus’ calling to love God, love our neighbour and make disciples, who have given this nation so much. Think of the early Celtic missionaries, the monasteries that brought education and hospitals, the scholars who gave us the King James Bible, John Wesley who brought a spiritual revival that changed the direction of this country. Remember too Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery and the Quaker reformers such as George Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree who worked to improve the lives and social rights of those working in Victorian cities.

Britain has Christianity running through its veins and has received many blessings as a result despite what some who are ignorant or in denial might think. But if we are to still be talking about our Judaeo-Christian heritage in a hundred years time, it will be as a result of a vibrant and healthy Church that continues to change this nation by faithfully serving God and fighting injustice. A defence, muscular or otherwise, of past achievements and nostalgia will not be enough.



Categories: Atheism, Church, Faith in society, Morals & ethics

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17 replies

  1. Once again, Britain’s politicians expel excessive amounts of hot air. Frankly, as a practicing Christian, I am not the least bit interested if these people want to hang on to their “cultural Christian heritage.” That heritage has obviously not done anything very positive for them. The Faith is not about “comfort and security.” In fact, any Christian who truly attempts to live out his beliefs, and recognizes them as a whole way of life and not a cultural backdrop or belief system, knows that comfort and security do not play into it at all. If someone as misguided and, frankly, pathetic as Richard Dawkins wants to see Britain hang on to it’s Christian cultural identity, that does not say much for the original identity, does it? As well, talk is cheap. What is actually going on in the workplace, in the schools, and in the courts? Christians continue to be persecuted on all kinds of levels whenever they try to openly practice their faith. As for politicians and their occasional church attendance, that’s pretty much par for the course. It’s all about *appearing* to do the right thing, not actually doing it. This country is in a sad state when it comes to Christian practice and morality.

  2. But imagine the respect that the people of Britain would have for Christians if the Church of England ever did disentangle itself from Government and Monarchy. That really would be a robust move.

  3. A cultural christian identity maybe does have benefit if it provides an ethical framework for people to be basically decent to one another but real deep meaningful change in society will require revival and i am hopeful that this will happen. Increasing the number of Christian reference points outside the church and in the community will help. Street Pastors for example in our local towns are very highly regarded and meet people actually where they are and often when they are in distress. People are more likely to identify with visible radicle goodness and become more interested in what motivates Christians

    • Yes indeed Graham. We’re moving into exciting times!

      Taking Jesus outside the 4 walls and bringing Him to others is what He wants. As well as your example there’s Healing On The Streets too. One of my local NE Hants church leaders is so inspired by what’s happening in Wales that he and other ministers are looking to the Lord to do similar on their ‘turf’ too.

      And intercessory prophetical voices are already well ahead of the game, as I learned on a couple of meetings in the last month. One leader claims a reformation has started wherein believers become as fully empowered amongst the public as Jesus’ first disciples were.

      Imo, it’s radically different to the hypocritical inter-denominational disdain of my youth because many churches are taking on board the cultural values of the Kingdom as taught by associates of Bethel Church, and of Culture Changers here, for a ‘new era’ (http://www.culture-changers.org/new_era)

      • Hi Richard, when do you think a revival will happen?

      • Hi again Nick – another good one, for which I’d need the mind of Christ! And I hope am not teaching granma’ to suck eggs here…but maybe a few links may prove helpful.

        As you may know, revival is basic to one’s life as a believer in our laying down, even ‘putting to death’, the old self and the new one becoming alive as our spirit is revived and is allowed to take the lead.

        Imho, Revival can be a rather hackneyed ‘catch-all’ phrase (or even blunderbus!). That may be why some are referred to as ‘Refreshing’ or ‘Outpouring’. (And they’re extremely resource intensive!) It may well be more likely for an increasing number of local fires to spread, or network as ‘revivals’, as in Wales now. This would accord with Jean Darnell’s vision in 1967 (see http://wp.me/P1Y1yB-Zp for link). Also, there are very recent insights about the Lord moving separately, and eastwards, across the British Isles (http://wp.me/p1Y1yB-4hy)

        The answer, I suspect, lies in the vision Smith Wigglesworth’s prayer partner had of a major revival – indescribable! (http://wp.me/p1Y1yB-sd) Maybe that’s also what a young pastor in Hull had a vision of in 1996 – Days of Wonder!

      • Thanks Richard. Your website is an excellent resource. I consider myself an armchair revivalist and am aware of many of the issues around the subject. I’ve interviewed a number of people on the subject and the Muslims I spoke to came out with one of the more interesting quotes – they immediately understood the concept and they said ‘Why can’t it be fun?’. As you know the Christian community is divided into camps on the issue – one side condemns things like the Welsh Outpouring (for the reasons you are aware of) and the other side tends to be supportive of the revivalists. Both sides battle with each other. In the middle of this there is a huge segment within the Christian community who have an open minded scepticism about the issue. But the problem is that we are held in perpetual anticipation of it happening so a lot of people become disillusioned. I am 51% sure it will happen within my lifetime, if that helps? I don’t think it is imminent, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.

      • Thanks very much for your kind compliment Nick. You’d be interested to learn I first heard about what was happening in Wales other than in Ffald-y-Brenin from what Wiccan’s were picking up at the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (my http://wp.me/p1Y1yB-1l1 doesn’t divulge the fuller detail).

        Yes the Muslims’ comment on fun is quite right! The Holy Spirit’s presence can certainly be fun, even very intoxicating as the first disciple discovered at Pentecost. And He’s very safe for there’s absolutely no toxic limit or any hangover to drinking this spirit – and it’s free! It’s the power surges that sizzle, even from 1/4 way around the world!

  4. I am very wary when people in the secular world talk about Muscular Christianity, or Real Christian Values! I don’t doubt the sincerity of many, but in a no of cases it comes across as, “Weak and compromised Christianity is when someone disagrees with me on the correct approach to a series of moral issues!”

  5. Very nice that Baroness Warsi is ‘coming to the defence of Christian heritage’, but is the basis of our faith really ‘to be a good person and do good things for society?’. If that’s defence then I’d hate to know what a brush-off would be like…

  6. A very interesting post. I’m a non-Christian, instinctively in favour of secular government and of at least some of the ‘secularising agenda’, although I wouldn’t like to call it that because it sounds too (and unnecessarily) confrontational, but…

    I am very comfortable with the country’s Christian heritage, and would be very happy to see a Christian revival, certainly if it “continues to change this nation by faithfully serving God and fighting injustice”. I am very suspicious of anyone talking about ‘muscular Christianity’, and especially so of Nigel Farage!

    Indeed, although I’d like to see the Church of England disestablished, largely because I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Church to be given a privileged position, it’s also because I don’t feel that many of the people who support the established Church are ‘proper Christians’. (And yes, I’m aware of the irony of someone like me pronouncing on what is and is not a ‘proper Christian’.) It’s partly because I don’t think that people such as me should be interfering in ‘Church business’ and yet the constitutional role of the Church sort of gives me a stake in it, like it or not.

    That said, I think that if the Church of England were disestablished it would probably actually be able to use that ‘freedom’ to do it’s job better (as defined by Christians, rather than myself). i.e. presumably to serve and represent Christians, Christianity and indeed, the country as a whole. The last thing I want to see is religion driven out of public life and suppressed. I think Christianity in general, and the Church in particular – as well as the country – are ill-served by the relationship. Indeed, making the boundary between Church and state clearer and more meaningful would I think empower religious politicians participating in the country’s governance by removing what is currently a bit of conflict of interest. And there are many great (and religious) politicians doing good things inspired by their faith – I certainly don’t wish to lose them!

  7. As a Christian I do feel we need to be more vocal in the many attacks upon the Christian way of life which are clearly orchestrated by a very liberal and secular media elite (demonstrated successfully by the BBC since 1987). Tony Blair’s ‘vision’ to forge closer links to the French socialist dominated EU via the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was an opportunity to ‘push through’ dubious legislation that cannot be won through democracy but only by STEALTH. The EHRC uses ‘ratchet legislation’ to further a secular agenda and deny UK religious (mainly Christian) sensitivity. The UK is now entirely sub-subservient to the EU Courts – on any matter – barring all religious sensitivity and common sense from UK state legislation. It is clear since the ECHR ruling that the result was the closure of UK Catholic Adoption Agencies (since 2008) whilst many needy and children continues (seen in state children’s homes) to loose a moral compass, a faith and goodwill as part of the poor state run enterprise that has no moral compass, faith or goodwill. The state is NOT always right, in fact it is rarely ‘right’ but through democratic revisions of bad laws through (previously) independent UK Judiciary it normally amends. Now that review has gone, we only have the ECHR with it’s incontestable judgements against the UK.

    This European Socialist such as president Hollande, faces increased ‘popular’ hostility in Brittany this week (November 2013) as France slides into financial chaos through its highly unpopular tax hikes and moral uncertainty. We need to support those fleeing France (London is now the second largest French speaking Capital outside France) and block any more ECHR ruling by the UK temporarily leaving the EU. If anyone had any doubt that we can change the EU then that was quashed by the UK signing up to the LISBON TREATY :

    Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty states: ” The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU”. The Charter ‘reaffirms… the rights as they result from… the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Court of Human Rights”.

    It is clear that the ECHR is independent of the EU and can impose it”s own brand orthodoxy on member states. There is no question of any democracy here or ‘opt-in’ clauses for member states, this is clear manipulation by political secularists and socialists combing to form a ‘european dream world’ that is far from the European ideals that I voted for as part of an EEC in my youth.

    Therefore we have no option but to leave the EU until we get some democracy back into the system and show that there is another way through faith compassion and responsibility for each member state to have a fair say. No taxation without representation, should be our motto!

  8. Well said Richard and Stacey ! I agree that faith must be genuine and vigorous. What is happening in Wales, my original home area, is incredible. Long may it continue.

    But we are all talking about two separate but related things. True faith is not a “tame” thing and never can be. So the Churches need to move forward with the gospel being told “afresh to each generation”. But earlier successes in doing just this has left many with a heritage, within which they live, and this is not wrong. So those on the edges of faith, the cultural Christians have the right to defend the broader culture, a kind, gentle culture, of which they are a part, from its destruction by arrogant, over-bearing secularists including some of the judges who seek to become “moral” leaders, changing attitudes, through misuse of their positions, thus usurping both democracy, Parliament, and faith. Of course the politicians, with their EU derived semi-secret project and other agendas gave the judges these powers over us ! And the judges are useful “targets” to distract attention from those who are truly the most culpable, themselves, the politicians, with their short term, selfish, political aims. Where have all the Statesmen gone ?

    So cultural Christianity, Methodism and Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism etc, etc are all worth defending. But THE most worthwhile thing is for people to truly strive to follow Christ, thus strengthening themselves, their families and wider circle and laying down, through their lives, another deposit of true faith for the society of the now, and the future. In time the efforts of those living now become part of the inherited culture as well, since The wider Church of all denominations is shared by the dead, the living and the future dead, US all !

  9. Thank you David. (In view of your Welsh connection you may be interested in this item’s content and link, http://wp.me/p1Y1yB-4lG.)

  10. Reblogged this on Richard's Watch and commented:
    In line with what many prophetical voices have been bringing from the Lord for 2013+, we’ve seen an increasingly marked emphasis upon a ‘new era’, or season, for the wider church (http://wp.me/P1Y1yB-3Xw refers). In tandem with this, secular and political opinions are being aired not so much on the irrelevance of Christianity but more for its values and how they can be re-applied within society. Gillan Scott brings a valuable contribution to this debate and generated further thoughts, including on Revival, in his blog’s discussion thread.

  11. I am a church youth worker and I deliver assemblies and RE lessons to primary schools in my parish. Part of the reason for this is so that they have at least some idea of the Christian faith so that, at some point in the future, they can have a conversation with me, or someone like me, about their own ideas of faith and when I speak about Jesus they will have a basic grasp of the Bible and what Christians believe. This means that the conversation is less about explaining the very basics and more about what they believe and why I believe what I believe. And this is what Cultural Christianity can bring. Sure, we will end up with more like Farage, who attend church purely because it’s the cultural thing to do, but it also means that people understand what you are talking about and are therefore open to evangelism far sooner than those who have no point of reference at all.
    Cultural Christianity is not an end in itself, but it is a step along the way for us to speak about Jesus and share His good news.

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