Christian, secular & multi-cultural Britain
Whilst looking through my computer for something else I came across the following brief address I gave on the opening evening of the Indian Orthodox Church Family Conference in 2008. I found it relevant with some of Pope Benedict's comments during his recent visit so decided to share it on here.
When the Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware was first ordained a priest he asked for advice on sermons and was apparently told, âYouâre Orthodox, arenât you!? Then youâre Trinitarian â so your sermons should have three points!â I am not sure how helpful he found this advice on sermons â and I seem to have failed in following it as I have ended up with four points rather than three to share with you nowâ¦ but, hey, nobodyâs perfect! These are points it seems to me of general relevance to the subjects we are considering this weekend.
1 Firstly is Britain a Christian country or is it a post-Christian country? There are of course the trappings or appearance of Christianity â and state occasions still reflect a Christian presence as well as a Christian past with the Church of England (the established or state Church) still playing a leading role (though with an increasing place for those of us from other Churches and also those of other Faiths). There is also much latent Christianity even among many who do not go to Church other than, perhaps, for marriages and funerals. Much, however, that once was common ground can no longer be assumed knowledge - for example many people have no idea what baptism is. There was a time they would have known at least what you were referring to even if they were a little vague on the theology of baptism. They at least knew what you were talking about when you mentioned baptism â babies and water and joining the Church. But you can no longer assume that knowledge. Many people simply have no idea what you mean when you use a word like baptism. Thatâs one thing â donât be fooled by expressions about this being a Christian country. It isâ¦ and it isnât! I would also add that many people would think that Christianity and Church is something you do (if you do it) as an individual, not as a family and they would object to you bringing up your children as Christians, arguing that you are prejudicing themâ¦
2 Of course these days Britain is a multi-cultural country and is also multi-religious and the two things are often confused and muddled up. For example I am white English British (although when it comes to football I always support Scotland, not England â my father was a Scot). I also am an Orthodox Christian. I am British Orthodox â not Indian nor Egyptian nor Ethiopianâ¦ nor Russian nor Greek for that matter. And, I am British Orthodox â not Protestant nor Roman Catholic. Members of the Malankara Church would I presume be considered as Asian British. Most white English people, however, on hearing the words Asian British assume either Moslem or Hindu. The better informed might also think Sikh and some might even think Buddhist. Hardly any whatsoever would think Asian British â I wonder if theyâre Christian? It just wouldnât occur to them to think this â and upon learning that you are Christian most would assume that you are descended from people who converted to Christianity during the days of British rule in India. They have no idea of a Christianity in India going back to the apostles. Do not underestimate the degree, the extent, the power of ignorance in this country.
3 When I was a teenager it was considered odd to be a Christian. Secularism ruled â religion was out of date, old fashioned, irrelevant, on the way outâ¦ at least thatâs the way things were presented in the media and in popular culture and understanding. To some extent they still are presented that way, though it is much harder to ignore the religious of every persuasion who make up the population of this country. In some ways the situation is now more similar to that of the early Church when Christianity was one of a host of religions available. My teenage years of Christianity versus secularism have indeed been replaced by something more like the early Church or as I imagine the situation in India to be where Christianity is one among a number of religions. But make no mistake, whatever the number of religious choices now available in multi-cultural Britain secularism hasnât gone away. Never underestimate secularism. Secularism in Britain is not Church friendly and it is not family friendly. Secularism in Britain is still very powerful. It is also cunning and crafty, clever and skillful. During the recent heated discussion concerning ethical debates in Parliament I several times heard secularists insist that this is a secular country and religious people have no right to force their beliefs on the rest of us. But that is exactly what a secular person does who votes for a particular bill in Parliament â forcing his or her beliefs on the rest of us. Donât be put off by false arguments. The secularists follow their beliefs. We can follow our beliefs too. Sometimes this might mean working with not only those in other Churches but also with those of other Faiths on things about which we agree such as the sanctity of life and the importance of the family when we make common cause together against the secular state. Other times it may mean being well informed on the laws of the secular state if we have problems with those of another Faith, another religion. Even as St Paul the Apostle, a Roman citizen could appeal to Caesar so too can we as citizens of this country appeal to British law. Our Lord told us to be âwise as serpentsâ as well as âharmless as dovesâ.
4 There are people in this country who do not regard Orthodox as being Christians. I refer to the evangelical Christians â and also to the cults like the Jehovah Witnesses. I do not say all evangelicals but there are some, perhaps many, who will target our Church members, perhaps particularly our younger members such as teenagers. They can be persuasive at arguing that our beliefs are not Biblical and seeking to convert our members away from our Orthodox Christian Faith into their beliefs instead. (Of course they do have a problem with me as I am a convert from evangelical Protestant Christianity to Orthodox Christianity â so as well as hopefully knowing the Orthodox Faith I also know how they think, how they see us, where they are coming fromâ¦) We must ensure that all our people are well informed on their Faith and especially on those areas where others are going to challenge them, to seek to persuade them, to draw them awayâ¦
So four thoughts to perhaps have in our minds, four issues or areas for us to be aware of, as we consider things this weekend â (1) that Christianity is not well and widely known at a popular level today and that certainly to this extent Britain is no longer a Christian country (you cannot assume Christian knowledge), (2) never underestimate the extent and power of ignorance in this country, (3) despite being multi-cultural Britain remains strongly, powerfully secular, and (4) remember the evangelical Christians who target our Church members.