Tag Archives: Great Britain

David Cameron on the Persecution of Christians

The persecution of Christians, slowly, is making its way onto the world’s agenda. In his annual Easter message, British Prime Minister David Cameron (above) urged churches in Britain to do more to draw attention to the suffering of Christians across the globe. Cameron also spoke, unusually, about his own Christian faith and the benefits Christianity “brings to Britain.” Skeptics might perceive an attempt to smooth relations with rank-and-file Conservatives, many of whom Cameron antagonized by supporting same-sex marriage. But politicians always have a variety of motives. Cameron deserves credit for raising the issue of persecution at a time when many in the West ignore it.

And why do so many in the West ignore the persecution of Christians? The always valuable John Allen explains:

Why isn’t this global war on Christians more of a cause célèbre?Fundamentally, the silence is the result of a bogus narrative about religion in the West. Most Americans and Europeans are in the habit of thinking about Christianity as a rich, powerful, socially dominant institution, which makes it hard to grasp that Christians can actually be victims of persecution.

I’ve made a similar point myself, here.

Britain to Recognize Sharia-Compliant Wills

An interesting story about The Law Society’s decision to recognize the legitimacy of Islamic law by permitting solicitors to draft wills that are compliant with principles of Islamic law. A bit:

Under ground-breaking guidance, produced by The Law Society, High Street solicitors will be able to write Islamic wills that deny women an equal share of inheritances and exclude unbelievers altogether.

The documents, which would be recognised by Britain’s courts, will also prevent children born out of wedlock – and even those who have been adopted – from being counted as legitimate heirs.

Anyone married in a church, or in a civil ceremony, could be excluded from succession under Sharia principles, which recognise only Muslim weddings for inheritance purposes.

Nicholas Fluck, president of The Law Society, said the guidance would promote “good practice” in applying Islamic principles in the British legal system.

The story reports that some of the existing Islamic law tribunals also “have powers to set contracts between parties, mainly in commercial disputes, but also to deal with issues such as domestic violence, family disputes and inheritance battles.”

It may be that The Law Society will eventually make the same decision with respect to private parties who wish to engage in commercial transactions that conform to Islamic law, or who wish to avoid commercial transactions with those who hold what are taken to be religiously objectionable views. Interesting that the reception to similar claims in this country has been rather different.

UPDATE: See Frank Cranmer’s comment for various clarifications.

The Death of Tory Anglicanism

That’s the title of this very interesting piece by Eliza Filby (h/t Sam Bray). There is some interesting historical discussion which frames the political and religious issues helpfully for outsiders. It also struck me that the terms in which religion is now considered as a political matter seem to reflect some considerable Americanization. Note as well the influence of libertarianism, also an ascendant feature of American politics of the right. A bit:

In the divorce between Conservatism and Anglicanism, the blame was put on the church. But the truth was that the party had changed too. Even in the 1980s, Anglican Conservatives were a dying breed. The new generation of Conservative MPs were more libertarian. Future Tory MPs would be sourced from a much wider pool both socially and religiously.

True, the Tory party today is not completely secular. While the High Anglican contingent may have dwindled (or converted to Catholicism), there are still prominent Conservative evangelicals. But they tend to hold a more individualistic and moralistic faith and care little for goings-on in the Synod.

Paradoxically, though, the Conservative party has become more secular at a time when religion has become an increasingly prominent issue. But faith is now spoken of in terms of the rights of the religious individual rather than the privileges of the established church.

While the Tory leadership may still sometime say that Britain is a Christian country and send out copies of the King James Bible to schools, there is little sense of a religious underpinning to current Tory thinking. If David Cameron has sought to hark back to a pre-Thatcherite tradition of Tory paternalism, he has done so without reference to its Anglican roots. Indeed, the confusion surrounding his ‘Big Society’ agenda may in part be due to its secular articulation (especially odd given that faith groups are expected to do so much of the work).

Until recently, this secularisation had gone unnoticed, concealed under the broader process of Cameron’s modernisation of the party, but the pushing through of gay marriage has changed all that. If the debate reveals anything, it is that the tables have turned; the Conservative party appears to have out-liberalised the Church of England.

Mandelbrote & Ledger-Lomas (eds.), “Dissent and the Bible in Britain, c.1650-1950″

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Dissent and the Bible in Britain, c.1650-1950 by Scott Mandelbrote (University of Cambridge) and Michael Ledger-Lomas (King’s College). The publisher’s description follows.

The claim that the Bible was “the Christian’s only rule of faith and practice” has been fundamental to Protestant dissent. Dissenters first braved persecution and then justified their adversarial status in British society with the claim that they alone remained true to the biblical model of Christ’s Church. They produced much of the literature that guided millions of people in their everyday reading of Scripture, while the voluntary societies that distributed millions of Bibles to the British and across the world were heavily indebted to Dissent. Yet no single book has explored either what the Bible did for dissenters or what dissenters did to establish the hegemony of the Bible in British culture. The protracted conflicts over biblical interpretation that resulted from the bewildering proliferation of dissenting denominations have made it difficult to grasp their contribution as a whole. This volume evokes the great variety in the dissenting study and use of the Bible while insisting on the factors that gave it importance and underlying unity. Its ten essays range across the period from the later seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century and make reference to all the major dissenting denominations of the United Kingdom. The essays are woven together by a thematic introduction which places the Bible at the center of dissenting ecclesiology, eschatology, public worship, and “family religion,” while charting the political and theological divisions that made the cry of “the Bible only” so divisive for dissenters in practice.

A Penny for the Old Guy

At Mirror of Justice, my friend Rick Garnett has an interesting post about Guy Fawkes Day, which, for those of you who don’t know, was yesterday. The day commemorates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a conspiracy by British Catholics to blow up Parliament and end the Protestant Stuart dynasty. (Amusing, in its way, because the Protestantism of the Stuarts was always a little suspect). Guy Fawkes was one of the conspirators–the one in charge of the explosives–and for centuries Britons commemorated the day by burning effigies of Guy and the Pope. Nowadays, the holiday has morphed into Bonfire Night, in which Britons across the country light huge fires and set off fireworks. Probably the whole thing will morph into Halloween one of these days.

As an American, I’ve always thought knowing about Guy Fawkes Day was a mark of anglophile eccentricity, rather like reading P.D. James or renting Elizabeth R on Netflix. But here comes Rick, who writes that his public school celebrated Guy Fawkes Day as a holiday. And Rick comes from Alaska! Obviously, this great country is more than I know.   

Noake & Buxton, “Religion, Society and God: Faith in Contemporary Britain”

Next month, SCM Press will publish Religion, Society and God: Faith in Contemporary Britain by Richard Noake (York St. John University) and Nicholas Buxton (St. John the Baptist Church). The publisher’s description follows.

There is a definite and growing interest and awareness amongst the general public of the competing arguments around faith, God and society. The book is divided into two sections. Section One tackles issues of ultimate concern and the place of God in the modern world, whilst Section Two considers the role of faith in public life. The contributors bring a range of different voices – both religious and secular – to the conversation. Section One: Examining God – Richard Harries discusses the challenge to faith from atheism, whilst Dan Cohn-Sherbok thinks about God from a post-holocaust point of view, Daphne Hampson wonders how God might be reconceived in a post-patriarchal context. David Jasper reflects on the role of the arts in leading us to spiritual reflection, and Mona Siddiqui offers a comparison between Muslim and Christian notions of divine love. Section Two: The role of faith in contemporary society – James Jones argues for ‘kingdom values’ in public life, Catherine Pepinster advocates an incarnational engagement with social concerns, Roger Trigg asserts that the Christian values that have shaped our political assumptions cannot be ignored. Estelle Morris defends the place of faith schools in a secular society, and finally Tony Bayfield highlights the need for a truly ‘public square’ where both religious and secular voices can be heard.

“Religion, Identity and Conflict in Britain: From the Restoration to the Twentieth Century” (Brown, Knight & Morgan-Guy, eds.)

This month, Ashgate publishes Religion, Identity and Conflict in Britain: 9781409451488.JKT_templateFrom the Restoration to the Twentieth Century, edited by Stewart J. Brown (U. of Edinburgh, UK), Frances Knight (U. of Nottingham, UK), and John Morgan-Guy (U. of Wales, UK).  The publisher’s description follows.

The British state between the mid-seventeenth century to the early twentieth century was essentially a Christian state. Christianity permeated society, defining the rites of passage – baptism, first communion, marriage and burial – that shaped individual lives, providing a sense of continuity between past, present and future generations, and informing social institutions and voluntary associations. Yet this religious conception of state and society was also the source of conflict. The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 brought limited toleration for Protestant Dissenters, who felt unable to worship in the established Church, and there were challenges to faith raised by biblical and historical scholarship, science, moral questioning and social dislocations and unrest.

This book brings together a distinguished team of authors who explore the interactions of religion, politics and culture that shaped and defined modern Britain. They consider expressions of civic consciousness in the expanding towns and cities, the growth of Welsh national identity, movements for popular education and temperance reform, and the influence of organised sport, popular journalism, and historical writing in defining national life. Most importantly, the contributors highlight the vital role of religious faith and religious institutions in the understanding of the modern British state.

Carey, “God’s Empire: Religion and Colonialism in the British World, c.1801-1908″

One of my research interests not obviously connected to law and religion involves the thought of the important late nineteenth-century British judge, colonial administrator, essayist, and all around force of nature, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen (see here and here).  But as I’ve examined his ideas, it’s become clear to me how important the relationship of the state and religion was to his general view of law and politics.

I’m therefore looking forward to checking out this book by Hilary M. CareyGod's Empire
(University of Newcastle, New South Wales), God’s Empire: Religion and Colonialism in the British World, c.1801-1908 (Cambridge University Press 2013), whose focus seems in part to be the Victorian period.  The publisher’s description follows.

In God’s Empire, Hilary M. Carey charts Britain’s nineteenth-century transformation from Protestant nation to free Christian empire through the history of the colonial missionary movement. This wide-ranging reassessment of the religious character of the second British empire provides a clear account of the promotional strategies of the major churches and church parties which worked to plant settler Christianity in British domains. Based on extensive use of original archival and rare published sources, the author explores major debates such as the relationship between religion and colonization, church-state relations, Irish Catholics in the empire, the impact of the Scottish Disruption on colonial Presbyterianism, competition between Evangelicals and other Anglicans in the colonies, and between British and American strands of Methodism in British North America.

Sowerby, “Making Toleration: The Repealers and the Glorious Revolution”

Speaking of the use of religious convictions in the construction of political Making Tolerationarguments, here is a very interesting book in the history of ideas involving the concept of toleration in the era of James II before the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Act of Toleration of 1689 — Making Toleration: The Repealers and the Glorious Revolution, by Scott Sowerby (Northwestern), available in early 2013 from Harvard University Press.  The publisher’s description follows.

In the reign of James II, minority groups from across the religious spectrum, led by the Quaker William Penn, rallied together under the Catholic King James in an effort to bring religious toleration to England. Known as repealers, these reformers aimed to convince Parliament to repeal laws that penalized worshippers who failed to conform to the doctrines of the Church of England. Although the movement was destroyed by the Glorious Revolution, it profoundly influenced the post-revolutionary settlement, helping to develop the ideals of tolerance that would define the European Enlightenment.

Based on a rich array of newly discovered archival sources, Scott Sowerby’s groundbreaking history rescues the repealers from undeserved obscurity, telling the forgotten story of men and women who stood up for their beliefs at a formative moment in British history. By restoring the repealer movement to its rightful prominence, Making Toleration also overturns traditional interpretations of King James II’s reign and the origins of the Glorious Revolution. Though often depicted as a despot who sought to impose his own Catholic faith on a Protestant people, James is revealed as a man ahead of his time, a king who pressed for religious toleration at the expense of his throne. The Glorious Revolution, Sowerby finds, was not primarily a crisis provoked by political repression. It was, in fact, a conservative counter-revolution against the movement for enlightened reform that James himself encouraged and sustained.

Trollope on American Religion

Anthony Trollope is a wonderful novelist of the Victorian period.  His Chronicles of Barsetshire series is both a window on nineteenth-century Britain and a stylistic masterpiece.  And he is the author of as stingingly elegant a line about literary talent as I have run across (composed at the expense of my man, James Fitzjames Stephen): “a poor novelist, when he attempts to rival Dickens or rise above Fitzjeames, commits no fault, though he may be foolish.” (from “Barchester Towers”)

Here is a fascinating quote from his travelogue, “North America” (1862), written long before President Eisenhower said something vaguely similar, though in a very different register:

I have said that it is not a common thing to meet an American who belongs to no denomination of Christian worship.  This I think is so: but I would not wish to be taken as saying that religion on that account stands on a satisfactory footing in the States.  Of all subjects of discussion, this is the most difficult.  It is one as to which most of us feel that to some extent we must trust to our prejudices rather than our judgments.  It is a matter on which we do not dare to rely implicitly on our own reasoning faculties, and therefore throw ourselves on the opinions of those whom we believe to have been better men and deeper thinkers than ourselves . . . .

It is a part of [the American] system that religion shall be perfectly free, and that no man shall be in any way constrained in that matter.  Consequently, the question of a man’s religion is regarded in a free-and-easy way.  It is well, for instance, that a young lad should go somewhere on a Sunday; but a sermon is a sermon, and it does not much concern the lad’s father whether his son hear the discourse of a free-thinker in the music-hall, or the eloquent but lengthy outpouring of a preacher in a Methodist chapel.  Everybody is bound to have a religion, but it does not much matter what it is.