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Articles

Posted on Mon 7 December 2015

A Comment Piece on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life

The first thing to note is that this a private commission not appointed by the Government or the Crown. It is heavily liberal in its theological flavour with hardly any traditional minded Christians on it.

Its conclusions have to be weighed in that light.Some of what it says is uncontroversial eg the changing nature of British society but rather than requiring more ‘pluralism’( is this another term for multiculturalism?) ,might it not be right, precisely at this time, to reaffirm the tried and tested bases of society rather than another dose of liberal nostrums which have led to the fragmentation and isolation which we now face?

Would we not have been better off if we had accommodated the new plurality (not pluralism) on the basis of Christian hospitality, engagement and service rather than the bare tolerance of multiculturalism. As to the next coronation, I hope it doesn’t come for a long time but when it comes, it will be an important occasion to reaffirm the constitutional basis of the nation. This is Judaeo- Christian through and through, with the monarch promising to uphold ‘the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel’. I believe the next coronation,as all the others before it, should be Christian but with people of other faiths and of none invited to it and seated with honour. It may be that,afterwards, ‘across the road’ there can be a reception where leaders from the community, including those of other faiths, can bring their good wishes to the newly-crowned monarch. This will signal both a rootedness in a particular moral and spiritual tradition and an openness to the contribution of others.

There are already representatives of other churches and faiths in the House of Lords ,arguably with more privilege than the bishops. The Church of England has always supported such a development. Church schools are not ‘faith schools’ in the sense that they are restricted to children of church going parents. Many are open to the wider community. I believe they should continue to be so but two things need to be borne in mind: one, that it should be clear that these schools have a distinctively Christian basis and, secondly, that there needs to be a certain critical mass of Christians in both faculty and pupils if the schools' character is to be maintained. If this does not happen there will be fresh pressure to secularise these schools on the basis of the makeup of staff and pupils. In the end, it is for parents to determine what kind of schools they wish for their children. If they decide to send them to a church school, they should know what they are getting. Church schools will continue to have assemblies with a religious character. It is up to parents and teachers to decide together what they want for children in schools that do not have a religious foundation. At present the law requires assemblies with a wholly or mainly Christian character.

Although the report focuses on the new diversity in Britain, it emphasises the non-Christian aspects of it. In fact this diversity includes a significant new presence of Christianity from Eastern and Central Europe, West and East Africa, the Middle East and South and East Asia. This is proving a powerful element of renewal in all the churches in this country and must be taken into account. One element of being grounded in a moral and spiritual tradition is its importance for making ethical decisions in terms of policy and legislation, whether in the justification or not of conflict, the treatment of the human person, the upholding of liberty and any necessary restrictions on it, support of the family in the bringing up of children etc. This is one of the reasons why the Judaeo-Christian tradition remains important, regardless of whether any particular expression of it is privileged or not. Religious literacy is not only about what is happening in faraway places. It is also about our own need to stand within a developed, evolving and self -critical tradition for the ordering of our common life, whilst being open to other valuable contributions.