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Francis Orr-Ewing: Is Britain a Christian Country?

Francis Orr-Ewing: Is Britain a Christian Country?

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Published by: OCCAMediaOxfordUK on Feb 24, 2012
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02/24/2012

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Is Britain a Christian Country?
 A reflection
©
 
Rev. Francis Orr-Ewing,Chaplain at the Oxford Centre For Christian ApologeticsConnections:www.theocca.org www.latimerminster.org @theocca@missionalfrog21/02/2012
 Clustered around themes in the news over the last few weeks has been thequestion 'Is Britain a Christian country?' This question has been behindstories about reform of the Second Chamber, faith schools, MORI polls,prayer in council chambers, and statements from the Queen and faithleaders. The debate has included high levels of aspiration and a fairportion of passion - some would like the answer to be yes - others wouldlike the answer to be no. On some levels the answer is simple - as far asthe monarchy, established church and legal framework of our nation isconcerned we are self-declared as a Christian nation. As far as census datais concerned, when people have a chance to self-select as to their religion,a majority invariably ticks 'Christian'.According to the last census in2001, more than two thirds of people in Britain self-identified in thisway: (72% in England and Wales, and 65% in Scotland). Many areexpecting the next census to show a smaller proportion, in part due tochanging attitudes, as well as campaigns from secularist and humanist organisations in the run-up to the 2011 census. Many polls taken since2001 still show high figures for those calling themselves Christians, evenwhen the exact figures vary, especially where the phrasing or the order of the question is altered.Last week's small poll (1136 respondents) conducted by IpSOS MORI forRichard Dawkins' Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) suggestedthat a majority calls themselves Christians (54%) but that from this groupsubstantially fewer seem to go to church regularly, read the bible or have adeep grasp of the core Christian doctrines. I'm not sure if this should evenconstitute news. But the poll threw up a number of surprises, not least of which was that of those who self-identifying as Christian, 44% said theybelieved that "Jesus is the Son of God, and the Saviour of mankind." Whenexpressed as a proportion of the whole population this would suggest t hat almost one in four people not only believe that God exists, but also that hehas come to us in the person of Jesus and offers salvation to every person
 
who will receive it. According to the RDFRS-funded survey at least 18% inthe UK population pray regularly and 9% in the UK attend churchweekly. To cap it all most in the survey also believe in heaven. In the 1960's many academics floated a concept of the 'secularisationthesis'. Simply put this suggested that increasing modernity would lead todecreasing religion. Two famous architects of this thesis - Peter Bergerand Harvey Cox have since admitted that the evidence simply does not suggest that this is the case.Last year in Miami (November 15, 2011) speaking at the Faith AngleForum sponsored by the the Ethics and Public Policy Centre) Bergersaid:
Let me first take a matter where I very much changed my mindand that is the question of the relationship of religion to modernity. When I started out my work in sociology of religion, almost everyone in the field believed in what generally was called secularization theory, which [is] athesis that modernity leads to decline of religion. The more modernity; theless religion. And almost everyone thought that at the timeI changed my mind not because of any religious or philosophical changes on my own, but simply because I concluded that the evidence simply did not support thisthesis. And I was not the only one. Almost everyone in the field came to thesame conclusion, many of them about the same timeContrary to that theoryif you look at the contemporary world, to describe it as secular isimpossible. The real situation is that most of the world is as religious as it ever was. You have enormous explosions of religion in the worldIn fact, youcan say every major religious tradition has been going through a period of resurgence in the last 30, 40 years or so. Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, youname it; anything but secularization." 
But it is clear that the overhang of this now disproven thesis is still aliveand well in our schools, colleges, media outlets and much of the popularimagination. The real situation in the UK is both more complex and moreinteresting. There are undoubtedly rapidly shifting patterns of behaviourin the UK. In as far as the Churches are considered to be institutions, thedecline in institutional loyalty has gone hand in hand with the abandoningof most other institutions such as political parties. Political partymembership is now at only just over 1% . (In 1951 the Conservatives had2.9M members, and the labour party 876,000; whereas by 2011 theConservatives had only 177,000 and Labour 190,000 with the LiberalDemocrats at 66,000)[1] The rising generations are shifting the way inwhich they show involvement, commitment and opinion, more likely todemonstrate than join a political party; more likely to access content online or through their phones than in person, more likely to send a text message than write a letter, more likely to place a comment on a webforum or continue a conversation through social media than attend a
 
surgery for their local member of parliament.Britain is an interesting place to be and remains decidedly Christian on avariety of levels.
P
olitically and Legislatively.
 Our monarchy is a Christian arrangement of rule, duty and authority. Ournational Church is Established, our Parliament is set on Christianprinciples and has legislation informed by a decidedly scriptural care andconcern for the poor and the vulnerable. Every day begins withprayer. On 2nd June 1953 at Westminster Abbey at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, in front of 8000 guests and dignitaries as well as 3million in the streets and before an enormous live TV audience, thefollowing exchange took place:
 Archbishop: Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to beexecuted in all your judgements? 
 
Queen: I will.
 
 Archbishop: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? 
 
Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom theProtestant Reformed Religion established by law? 
 
Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? 
 
 And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to theChurches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, asby law do or shall appertain to them or any of them? 
 
Queen: All this I promise to do.
 
H
eritage
 Our history and our culture shows over 1000 years of fusion of Christianity and national life, even where private faith has shifted andchanged.Our most profound laws and rights, the dignity of the humanperson expounded in the Magna Carta arise from a Christian vision andGods existence. Some of the greatest social reform movements from theabolition of the slave trade to the reform of child labour laws wereinspired by committed Christians such as Wilberforce, whose activism inpublic life was inspired by his Christian faith. Our industrial legislationreform against child labour and many other movements are the bequest of our Christian heritage as a country.Britain has benefitted so much in our history from Christianity, not least inthe climate of tolerance and the freedom of religion which has been part of our religious and political landscape for well over a century.

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