Britain is known as a nation that welcomes foreigners. Not only do we have some of the most liberal laws in Europe for immigrants and asylum seekers, our colonial past means that many nations now have a right to the benefits of British Commonwealth hospitality. The openness of Britain’s borders makes her the easiest nation in Europe for refugees and asylum seekers to enter.
All this means that Britain hosts many people with different faiths – both nationals and foreigners. Mosques, Temples and other places of worship for other faiths are increasingly commonplace, particularly in our cities. Her Majesty the Queen has participated in numerous Commonwealth church services in which leaders from other world religions have not only been present but also have played an active part. Although these services have affirmed our great British tradition of tolerance they also have helped support the notion that all religions are basically the same and that Jesus Christ can take His place as one lord among the many lords in the belief systems of the world.
Such tolerance is not just the outworking of the principles of the Commonwealth in our modern setting. It has its roots in our Judeo-Christian heritage. In ancient Israel, the foreigner was welcomed into the Hebrew society coming under the protection and provision of the nation, its laws and its faith in the one true God, Yahweh – the LORD.
But today, the “strangers’ are free in our society to enjoy all the privileges of modern Britain while remaining true to their own culture even to the point of challenging the culture of their host nation. We are (or so we are told) a multifaith society. That means, as “political correctness’ dictates, we should not allow any form of Christian faith to be present in our public life. Some Moslems have objected to the presence of the tiny cross that forms part of the uniform of our Metropolitan Police. The Red Cross banned any celebratory symbols of the Christian faith from its charity shops over this last Christmas period. A small cross was recently removed from the reception area of one of our hospitals because it was said to be an offence to those of other religions.
Is Britain really MultiFaith?
With all this talk of Britain being a multifaith society, it is necessary to look at just how multifaith we really are. 10% of Britons are in regular attendance at Christian church services, 12% claim a particular allegiance to the Christian faith and some 72% would call themselves Christians in some general sense. All this is a reflection of the underlying Christian culture in our society.
Non-Christian faiths, on the other hand, are represented by no more than 3% of the population. Islam, which is said to be the second largest religious grouping in Britain, makes up only 2% of the population.
From these facts a truer picture of modern Britain emerges. The original evangelisation of the British Isles some 1,500 years ago profoundly affected our nation, giving birth to many generations of Christian culture and establishing many of our nations laws, institutions and values.
Often, it’s the non-religious who are pushing for changes said to be in keeping with the so-called multifaith make up of our nation. Why is this? Are they really concerned about religious matters? Far from it. Their secularist agenda means they want to see Christianity, their greatest opponent, lose is pride of place in British society. It is their attempt to see religious life kept out of the public life of the nation.
A Protestant nation
During the time of Henry VIII in the 16th Century, England, then a Catholic nation, broke away from Rome and the Church of England was established as the official religion of the State. Henry had been given the title, “Defender of the Faith’ by the Pope because he had written a tract against Martin Luther’s teaching. But after the Reformation in England, this title came to signify that the king was the defender of the Protestant faith as established in the Church of England. Thus we are officially a Protestant Christian nation.
Defender of Faiths?
Prince Charles has made it known that when he comes to the throne he would like to known as “Defender of Faiths’ and not “Defender of the Faith’ so that he can be more representative of all religious faith in Britain. That sounds well and good, but it would go against the long-established constitutional position in Britain. It would introduce sweeping changes in the British Monarchy and would further undermine the Church of England as the established religion of Britain. It is hard to see how this approach of Prince Charles would allow him to remain Head of the Church of England. Does he even want to be the head of this Protestant Christian religion? What is his attitude to the historic Christian faith? Historically, the title “Defender of the Faith’ is given to the British Monarch by virtue of his or her position as Head of the Church of England. It is easy to see why the secularists seek to emphasise, if not exaggerate the importance of the different faiths held by a minority in Britain.
Abuse of British tolerance
Britain is renowned as a nation of tolerance. This is due no doubt to the temperament of the British people in general, and to the particular influence of Christianity upon British culture. Christianity is a tolerant religion. The basis of faith in Christ is freedom of choice. Despite the command of Christ to disciple every nation on earth (Matthew 28), there is no coercion or compulsion present in the Christian faith. Jesus made it clear that choice it was up to each person’s own conscience. Everyone must decide for himself. Coupled with this is the idea of our rights to freedom of speech. This exists in western democracies as a direct result of the influence of Christianity. Those who come to Britain have freedom to believe and practice their faith under the enlightened and tolerant laws of British society.
This same tolerance is noticeably missing from many nations where other world faiths dominate. In the nations where Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are in control there is nothing like the freedom of religion for Christians that exists for those from other faiths who choose to make Britain their home. It is a sheer abuse of British tolerance for other faith adherents to campaign for changes in Britain to remove Christianity from its pride of place in our society while Christians are opposed, persecuted and even killed for their faith in the very nations these people have come from.
A tiny minority of those from other faiths go even further than that. Asylum seekers were recently implicated in the Ricin poison case and it was discovered that Britain had given asylum to a man who had fought on behalf of the Taliban in Afghanistan against British troops.
What should our attitude be to all of this? What is our response? We have a vital part to play and an invaluable contribution to make to our society at this time.
In the first place, we can demonstrate that the issue is not one of race or colour. The church is a multicultural community in which our cultural differences enrich rather than endanger our unity. Kensington Temple must surely be one of the most multicultural, multiethnic churches in the world. Over 100 different nations worship together as one community in KT/LCC. We are a living testimony to the fact that “multicultural’ doesn’t necessarily mean “multifaith’. We have an opportunity to show our friends from other faiths that Jesus satisfies the desires of all nations and that He is the Saviour of all the peoples of the world.
We are seeing many from the great world faiths come to find Christ the Saviour and the one true path to God. This is after all what Jesus, the great Prophet-Teacher claimed of Himself as John 14:6 declares,
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father but by Me.”
The religious freedom and tolerance of our society must surely mean that believers in Christ have the right to proclaim their faith to those who don’t yet share it and freely pass on their beliefs in the uniqueness of Christ without being branded as intolerant and insensitive to those of other faiths.
Secondly, our call is not just to proclaim Christ, but also to love and accept all in our society in His name and with His love. The command of Moses to love the “stranger in the midst’ is still relevant to us today. We must show this love by arguing for the religious, racial and social acceptance of all who seek shelter within our borders. That surely is the work of the church that claims to represent Christ in the world.
And finally, we should challenge the notion of “multifaith Britain’ as it is popularly understood. Yes, there is a minority of people who wish to follow non-Christian faiths in Britain, and we should be upholding their rights and freedom to worship. But we must strongly resist the insistence of those adherents to foreign faiths who want to downplay Britain’s Christian roots and erode our Christian culture.
We cannot accept that the multi faith presence in Britain means that Britain should become a multifaith nation. The government’s pet phrase, “the faith community’ which supposedly embraces all those with a religious faith, may be well intended, but is also extremely dangerous. It places all faiths on the same level and fails to discern between them. We must be willing to discern truth from error. Differences in world faiths represent rival claims to truth which cannot be dismissed through some all-embracing mishmash of religion in the name of tolerance.
British society must give place to the fact that not all these religions can be right and remember that it is the Christian religion that has given us our freedom, our democracy and many of the institutions that make Britain such a desirable place for those from all over the world who wish to make their home among us.