I find it a fascinating coincidence that just as King Charles is being publicly acknowledged as ‘Defender of the Faith’ a recent report has suggested that the government needs a better understanding of faith.
British Christians it seems are feeling more marginalised than ever with more than half of adults apparently thinking freedom of religion is under threat.
Now I am fully aware that some faith groups can prove problematic, but when I reflect on the fantastic work being done by organisations such as Christians Against Poverty and Street Pastors I would be the first to admit I am proud to be a Christian.
It was thrilling to be at the recent Pembroke Street Pastors’ AGM for example and to hear the local police spokesman say: “The concept of street pastorship enhances the safety and wellbeing of every single person who chooses to go out at the weekend’, and that he knows that ‘your pastoral services are highly appreciated by the licensees, staff, door supervisors and Police alike and you are all beacons of hope to those in need when darkness falls.”
Colin Bloom, the government’s Independent Faith Engagement Adviser summed it well when he said: “For millions of people, faith and belief informs who they are, what they do and how they interact with their community, creating strong ties that bind our country together.
“As we as a nation continue to become more diverse, so too does the landscape of faith and belief. Our government’s understanding of the role of faith in society must remain both current and alive to its evolutionary changes.”
But as I read some reflections on this ‘landmark report’ I found myself agreeing with Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern.
‘Faith is a force for good which government cannot afford to ignore’ she said, ‘Yet as I’ve stood with countless Christians in court hearings and met many others day in and day out at Christian Concern, I’ve consistently seen genuine faith in Christ, and the beliefs that spring from that, marginalised at best, punished at worst’.
This is particularly true when it comes to the traditional Christian attitudes to sexuality. ‘A sinister theme has appeared in many recent cases’ she suggests ‘where historic beliefs calling for repentance from sin and a call to purity are treated as optional for Christians. There is a lack of understanding that, to be faithful Christians, we are called to pursue and promote holiness’ (by which I assume she means traditional Christian moral teaching).
‘The implication is that any Christian who lives and speaks out about such holiness within a public context is the wrong sort of Christian – these Christians are choosing to be bigoted, homophobic and transphobic. In reality, they are the Christians who love God so much they have no choice at all and must, instead, find the courage to speak the truth’.
‘You can run foodbanks, host parent and toddler groups, organise events to counter loneliness. But don’t offer radical life transformation, prayer, purity or the Bible. Don’t offer Jesus.’
I wonder what, if anything, our new King can, will, or even be allowed to do to defend those who want to stand up for traditional Christian values? I have no idea what he would say to Andrea Williams, but I am pretty sure he would find it very difficult to defend her words in the public square.
Thankfully that responsibility is not just his. It’s been given to every Christian, whatever his or her status. I just hope that we will realise that and get on with it!
♦ Rob James is a Baptist pastor, writer, and a church and media consultant with EA Wales