I am director of an organisation called Solas Centre for Public Christianity. Our concern is with the way Christianity is both being privatised and sidelined in contemporary European culture and our mission is to enable Christians to proclaim Christ in the public sphere.
So the report from the private inter-faith commission (Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good) – on religion and public life in Britain has been of some interest to me. I am very grateful for the work that has been done on this report and although it is a real curate's egg, it will certainly provide much opportunity for reflection, thought and action in the next few months.
What are revealing are the various reactions within the Church to the report. Given that we are in a spiritual battle and the Force is with us, I have turned to Star Wars to help us in our analysis.
1. The Phantom Menace – Britain is doomed. Or at least Christian Britain is doomed. The report tells us that Christendom has gone and some Christians are reacting with fury.
But why? If its analysis of the current condition of the Church is correct then why shoot the messenger? I suspect that the report overplays rather than underplays the strength of Christianity in the country. I very much doubt that 50 per cent of the population are anywhere near being Christians. No, the real problem here is not in pointing out the pathetically weak state of the Church, but rather in refusing to recognise the menace it is being replaced with – a 'human rights' religion which seeks to govern humanity without God and which will end up as an intolerant, irrational society dominated by the rich, the powerful and the mob.
2. Return of the Jedi – In the 2001 Census, 390,000 people in England and Wales stated that their religion was Jedi. The Scots, always the more sensible and level headed part of the UK, had proportionately less at 14,000. The decline of the Jedis is spectacular (down to 175,000 in 2011); it seems the joke is wearing thin. But the increasing diversity of religious belief in Britain is no joke. Some Christians just want to accept that that is the way things are; that in a pluralistic society we should just accept that all religions are the same and all should be treated the same. To me this is the turkeys voting for Christmas option – or worse still the turkeys voting for Christmas not just for themselves but also for the ducks and chickens.
The removal of Christianity as the primary philosophical, ethical and guiding force in our land will have profound consequences, not least because it may result in the removal of the very values (equality, justice and freedom) which some people seem to think mean that Christianity should not be given special status. It will remove the foundation of our society for all. And who knows what will replace it? I very much doubt that the secular/Muslim/Uncle Tom Cobbley and all mish mash suggested here will work.
3. Attack of the Clones Some Christians accept that Christendom has gone. They accept the privatisation of Christianity and its removal from the public sphere as a fait accompli. Indeed they regard it as a good thing because now in a secular society where everyone is treated equally, the Christian Church has a chance to thrive. Some speak in such a way that I suspect they have been cloned by the secular humanists and planted within the Church in order to hasten its demise. For example, the premise that faith schools are divisive is one that is both obvious and yet not. Is it not the case that private schools are far more divisive, and that schools in 'nice' areas are divisive? If Christian faith schools are run properly they are a unifying force because they bring the Christian teachings of equality, diversity and tolerance in the context of a deep faith in God and his law.
The report states that people are "free to express their beliefs and practise a religion, providing they do not constrict the rights and freedoms of others". But that is just begging the question. Who determines what are the rights and freedoms? To the secular humanists that is self evident – them. The trouble with the secular humanist approach is that it is not 'neutral'; it presupposes that humans are basically good and 'progressive' and it has no just way to restrain or even recognise evil. Christians need to stand up and challenge the secular humanist religion – not accept it as the 'level playing field' it falsely claims to be.
4. The Empire Fights Back The Church of England seems particularly upset. And with their friends in the government establishment equally upset it is difficult to see many of the suggested reforms being enacted. Bishops will remain in the House of Lords. C of E schools will remain.
For those of us who believe that Christianity is the source and therefore the best guarantee of our Western liberal democracy, it is profoundly dangerous to remove the foundations and walls, without knowing what we are going to replace them with. The trouble is that the establishment Churches in the various nations of the UK have largely ceased to be effective biblical Churches and have instead just become the religious face of the establishment. They are more likely to be used to lead the ordinary people of this country into the new 'progressive' morality than almost any other institution. The Empire cannot fight back, if the dark side has infected it.
5. Revenge of the Sith Every action has a reaction. Every seed sown results in its own fruit. If we build our house on the sand, then when the storm comes, it will not stand. God will not be mocked. And if this nation, which has experienced so much of his blessing, seeks to have the fruits without the roots, we will be judged. I can only cry, O Lord, in wrath remember mercy! Do not leave us to our own devices. Restore and renew us!
6. A New Hope The report recognises that there is much good work being done in and through the Churches. It encourages government funding for projects that do not seek to convert. To that extent it recognises the good that Churches do. But the good goes much deeper, if the Church is preaching and living the gospel. If the government had any sense it would actually encourage Churches to proclaim the gospel and rejoice when people are truly converted to Christ. In any revival of real Christianity it means society will need fewer policemen, fewer tax collectors, fewer social workers and fewer band-aids for the broken society – because healing has begun. A converted drug addict saves a fortune in methadone, police and jail costs. But of course a secularist 'liberal' elitist government is not going to admit that.
The Church should carry on anyway. We are called to be salt and light – not vinegar and sugar. Whatever the Yodai who govern us decide to do should not make one whit of difference to our main task – to proclaim, love and live for Jesus. We are called to be light in the darkness – pointing to the only one who can bring true community, diversity and common good. May the Spirit be with us!
David Robertson is the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and director of Solas CPC, Dundee.