The media response to the election of Tim Farron was profoundly shocking. John Humphrey’s asked him mockingly whether he asked for God’s advice before making a major decision.
On Channel 4 Cathy Newman repeatedly asked if he thought gay sex is a sin. The Times recently ran a lead article entitled “Illiberal Democrat leader”, noting his abstentions in Parliamentary votes on same-sex marriage, adoption by gay couples and IVF treatment for lesbians and concluding that the Liberal Democrats had failed to choose a credible leader.
Realistically, this treatment reflects the current state of British culture. A 2014 poll revealed that 77% say they are not religious. Four in five Britons want religion to be private, not public and have no place in politics. Only 55% could name one of the Gospels. For the 6% of the population who still attend church weekly this is a massive wake up call.
Four in five Britons want religion to be private, not public
Historically, the Christian faith and Church has played a very significant role in British society and politics. The principal author of Magna Carta, the 800th centenary of which we celebrated recently, was Archbishop Stephen Langton. The 26 Bishops who sit in the House of Lords regularly bring a humane influence to its proceedings. The Prime Minister claims that Britain is a Christian country. He might have been right in the past but he is surely wrong today. So, what is a Christian response?
Apart from the Bishops in the Lords there are other positive answers. Local churches running food banks, offering debt counselling and putting street pastors on city streets to help young drunks at night are all expressing the neighbour love that Jesus identified as one of the two key expressions of a Christian’s life. Excellent though these initiatives are they are not enough.
Whilst it is not suggested that all non-believers are immoral there is evidence that the diminishing influence of Christian faith is having some damaging consequences. The extent of family breakdown and the erosion of marriage are examples. More than half of couples now marry and the average length of a cohabiting relationship is 37 months. 48% of children under 16 experience their parents splitting up. Some will survive unscathed but there is abundant evidence that children of broken homes are twice as likely to manifest behavioural problems, underachieve at school, become sexually active at an early age and more likely to use illegal drugs or drink heavily.
We need a coherent Christian counter culture that is not about ramming our beliefs down our neighbours’ throats
Christians must surely know that Jesus called his disciples to be salt and light in the world. Salt rubbed into meat and fish preserves it, at least for a while. Light pushes back the frontiers of darkness. St Paul taught Christians not to conform to the world’s pattern but be agents for change. So, where in our increasingly secular society are the agents of change being salt and light? Some have heeded the challenge and committed themselves to caring initiatives, serious prayer and outreach but not enough of us have.
It is time that the majority of British Christians hear and respond to the wake-up call. We need a coherent Christian counter culture that is not about ramming our beliefs down our neighbours’ throats but shows them the difference that God’s Spirit is making in our lives.