Is Britain a Christian Country?
A reflection © Rev. Francis Orr-Ewing, Chaplain at the Oxford Centre For Christian Apologetics Connections: www.theocca.org www.latimerminster.org @theocca @missionalfrog 21/02/2012 Clustered around themes in the news over the last few weeks has been the question 'Is Britain a Christian country?' This question has been behind stories about reform of the Second Chamber, faith schools, MORI polls, prayer in council chambers, and statements from the Queen and faith leaders. The debate has included high levels of aspiration and a fair portion of passion - some would like the answer to be yes - others would like the answer to be no. On some levels the answer is simple - as far as the monarchy, established church and legal framework of our nation is concerned we are self-declared as a Christian nation. As far as census data is concerned, when people have a chance to self-select as to their religion, a majority invariably ticks 'Christian'. According to the last census in 2001, more than two thirds of people in Britain self-identified in this way: (72% in England and Wales, and 65% in Scotland). Many are expecting the next census to show a smaller proportion, in part due to changing attitudes, as well as campaigns from secularist and humanist organisations in the run-up to the 2011 census. Many polls taken since 2001 still show high figures for those calling themselves Christians, even when 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 for Richard Dawkins' Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) suggested that a majority calls themselves Christians (54%) but that from this group substantially fewer seem to go to church regularly, read the bible or have a deep grasp of the core Christian doctrines. I'm not sure if this should even constitute 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 they believed that "Jesus is the Son of God, and the Saviour of mankind." When expressed as a proportion of the whole population this would suggest that almost one in four people not only believe that God exists, but also that he has 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% in the UK population pray regularly and 9% in the UK attend church weekly. To cap it all most in the survey also believe in heaven. In the 1960's many academics floated a concept of the 'secularisation thesis'. Simply put this suggested that increasing modernity would lead to decreasing religion. Two famous architects of this thesis - Peter Berger and 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 Angle Forum sponsored by the the Ethics and Public Policy Centre) Berger said: 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] a thesis that modernity leads to decline of religion. The more modernity; the less 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 this thesis. And I was not the only one. Almost everyone in the field came to the same conclusion, many of them about the same time Contrary to that theory if you look at the contemporary world, to describe it as secular is impossible. 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, you can say every major religious tradition has been going through a period of resurgence in the last 30, 40 years or so. Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, you name it; anything but secularization." But it is clear that the overhang of this now disproven thesis is still alive and well in our schools, colleges, media outlets and much of the popular imagination. The real situation in the UK is both more complex and more interesting. There are undoubtedly rapidly shifting patterns of behaviour in the UK. In as far as the Churches are considered to be institutions, the decline in institutional loyalty has gone hand in hand with the abandoning of most other institutions such as political parties. Political party membership is now at only just over 1% . (In 1951 the Conservatives had 2.9M members, and the labour party 876,000; whereas by 2011 the Conservatives had only 177,000 and Labour 190,000 with the Liberal Democrats at 66,000) The rising generations are shifting the way in which they show involvement, commitment and opinion, more likely to demonstrate 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 web forum 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 a variety of levels. Politically and Legislatively. Our monarchy is a Christian arrangement of rule, duty and authority. Our national Church is Established, our Parliament is set on Christian principles and has legislation informed by a decidedly scriptural care and concern for the poor and the vulnerable. Every day begins with prayer. On 2nd June 1953 at Westminster Abbey at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, in front of 8000 guests and dignitaries as well as 3 million in the streets and before an enormous live TV audience, the following exchange took place: Archbishop: Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed 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 the Protestant 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 the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them? Queen: All this I promise to do. Heritage Our history and our culture shows over 1000 years of fusion of Christianity and national life, even where private faith has shifted and changed. Our most profound laws and rights, the dignity of the human person expounded in the Magna Carta arise from a Christian vision and God s existence. Some of the greatest social reform movements from the abolition of the slave trade to the reform of child labour laws were inspired by committed Christians such as Wilberforce, whose activism in public life was inspired by his Christian faith. Our industrial legislation reform 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 in the climate of tolerance and the freedom of religion which has been part of our religious and political landscape for well over a century.
Social Good The social benefit of the Churches in undeniable. For centuries churches, inspired by the teaching of Jesus Christ, have used their role in society to serve others, educate millions and through their volunteer time keep the country functioning. Were all Christians to pull out of education and other social action nothing else would be able to fill the gaps. Research in 2008 revealed that work undertaken by faith groups in Wales contributes the equivalent of over £100 million  to the Welsh economy. Another piece of research showed that almost 40 percent of the voluntary work carried out by young people in Britain takes place through churches or religious organisations and 10 percent of those who declared themselves nonreligious still volunteer through a religious organisation. Self-Selecting And so we return to where we began. Whatever poll, census or survey is carried out, British people self-select, by majority for Christianity. Even with the growing mix of religious observance few people are choosing a secularist fundamentalism. There is a rise in attendance at mid-week Christian activities, Cathedral services, especially over Christmas, enormous demand and over-subscribing for faith schools, especially those affiliated with the Catholic Church or the Church of England. Undeniably Churches may have struggled to make the adaptations necessary for some aspects of the contemporary world, and clearly there is work to be done in helping those who tick 'Christian' to better understand what this might mean for them. That several million have attended Alpha courses over the last few years is perhaps and indication that there may be appetite for this. 
 According to estimates from the House of Commons Library http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12934148 (The report, Faith in Wales: Counting for Communities is the first of its kind in Wales. It includes statistics of all the main religions in Wales Christian, Baha i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh and was carried out by Christian group Gweini, working in partnership with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA). First Minister for Wales Rhodri Morgan said in a forward to the report that he welcomes the groundbreaking research and expects it will be of great importance for fostering better understanding and awareness of faiths and cultures in Wales.)
 Of the approximate 16 million people aware of Alpha, 3 out of 10 expressed some level of interest in the course (Ipsos MORI, October 2011). 9,970 Alpha courses are running in the UK and more than 60,000 courses are running worldwide in 169 countries and 112 languages. The total number of people who have been on an Alpha course in the UK since 1993 is approximately 2.8 million (Christian Research). http://ukengland.alpha.org/facts%20and%20figures
Frog Orr-Ewing is the Chaplain and a Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (the OCCA). He is much in demand as a conference speaker and leadership coach. Frog is also an Assistant Tutor at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University. He an Associate Lecturer at St Paul's Theological Centre and is completing doctoral research on Nineteenth Century missiology and church-planting. After graduating from Oxford University, Frog went on to be one of the pastors at St Aldate s Church in central Oxford, before moving to South East London, where he became the youngest encumbent in the Church of England at All Saints Church, Peckham. The church experienced marked growth, particularly engaging hundreds of children and young people and pioneered many forms of urban mission. After seven years in the heart of the city, Frog and Amy have started a new church in Buckinghamshire called Latimer Minster. Frog has co-authored a number of books with his wife Amy Orr-Ewing including: Millennials: Reaching and Releasing the rising generation and Holy Warriors: A Fresh Look at the Face of Extreme Islam.
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