Archive for the ‘Church of England’ Tag

Borderlines: Remembering Sojourns in Ireland.   Leave a comment

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Edited by Sam Burnside, published by Holiday Projects West, Londonderry, 1988.

The recent ‘Brexit’ negotiations over the issue of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have made me think about my two visits to the island as an adult, in 1988 and 1990, a decade before the Belfast talks led to the ‘Good Friday Agreement’. I had been to Dublin with my family in the early sixties, but recalled little of that experience, except that it must have been before 1966, as we climbed Nelson’s Column in the city centre before the IRA blew it up to ‘commemorate’ the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. I had never visited Northern Ireland, however.

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Nelson’s Column in the centre of Dublin in 1961.

A Journey to Derry & Corrymeela, June 1988:

In June 1988, while working for the Quakers in Selly Oak, Birmingham, I drove a group of students from Westhill College to Corrymeela, a retreat and reconciliation centre in the North. We drove to Belfast, being stopped by army blockades and visiting the Shankill and the Falls Road, witnessing the murals and the coloured curb-stones. Political violence in Belfast had largely been confined to the confrontation lines where working-class unionist districts, such as the Shankill, and working-class nationalist areas, such as the Falls, Ardoyne and New Lodge, border directly on one another (see the map below). We also visited Derry/ Londonderry, with its wall proclaiming ‘You are now entering Free Derry’, and with its garrisons protected by barbed wire and soldiers on patrol with automatic rifles. Then we crossed the western border into Donegal, gazing upon its green fields and small hills.

My Birmingham colleague, a Presbyterian minister and the son of a ‘B Special’ police officer, was from a small village on the shores of Lough Neagh north of Belfast. So while he visited his family home there, I was deputed to drive the students around, guided by Jerry Tyrrell from the Ulster Quaker Peace Education Project. He described himself as a ‘full-time Peace worker’ and a ‘part-time navigator’. I had already met him in Birmingham, where I was also running a Peace Education Project for the Quakers in the West Midlands. He was born in London but had come to live in Derry in 1972, where he had worked on holiday projects for groups of mixed Catholic and Protestant students. It provided opportunities for them to meet and learn together during organised holidays, work camps and other activities. He had left this in April 1988 to take up a post running a Peace Education Project at Magee College.

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Magee College, Londonderry.

Jerry gave me a copy of a slim volume entitled Borderlines: A Collection of New Writing from the North West, containing prose and poems by members of the Writers’ Workshop based at Magee College, including some of his own poetry. The Workshop promoted and encouraged new writing in the North-west, and acted as a forum for a large number of local writers. In his preface, Frank McGuinness wrote of how …

… freedom is full of contradictions, arguments, the joy of diversity, the recognition and celebration of differences.

After reading the collection, I agreed with him that the collection contained that diversity and that it stood testimony to the writers’ experiences and histories, their fantasies and dreams. Its contributors came from both sides of the Derry-Donegal border we had driven over, and from both sides of the Foyle, a river of considerable beauty which, in its meandering journey from the Sperrins to the Atlantic, assumes on its path through Derry a socio-political importance in symbolising the differences within the City. However, in his introduction to the collection, Sam Burnside, an award-winning poet born in County Antrim, but living in Derry, wrote of how …

… the borders which give definition to the heart of this collection are not geographical, nor are they overtly social or political; while … embedded in time and place, they are concerned to explore emotional and moral states, and the barriers they articulate are … those internal to the individual, and no less detrimental to freedom for that.

If borders indicate actual lines of demarcation between places and … powers, they suggest also the possibility of those barriers being crossed, of change, of development, from one state to another. And a border, while it is the mark which distinguishes and maintains a division, is also the point at which the essence of real or assumed differences are made to reveal themselves; the point at which they may be forced to examine their own natures, for good or ill.

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A page from an Oxford Bookworms’ Reader for EFL students.

In the short story ‘Blitzed’ by Tessa Johnston, a native of Derry where she worked as a teacher, Kevin has moved, in a fictional future (in 1998), from Derry to Manchester, to escape from the troubles, but the report of a car-bombing by the Provisional IRA in Manchester brings back memories of his encounter with a soldier in Derry as a schoolboy, fifteen years old. On his way from his home in Donegal to the Grammar School in Derry, in the week before Christmas, he had been blinded by the snow so that he didn’t see the soldier on patrol until he collided with him:

Over the years Kevin had grown accustomed to being stopped regularly on his way to and from school; to being stopped, questioned and searched, but never until that day had he experienced real hostility, been aware of such hatred. Spread-eagled against the wall he had been viciously and thoroughly searched. His school-bag had been ripped from his back and its contents strewn on the pavement; then, triumphantly, the soldier held aloft his bible, taunting him:

“So, you’re a Christian, are you? You believe in all that rubbish? You wanna convert me? Wanna convert the heathen, Fenian scum? No?”

On and on he ranted and raved until Kevin wondered how much more of this treatment he could endure. Finally, his anger exhausted, he tossed the offending book into the gutter and in a last act of vandalism stamped heavily upon it with his sturdy Army boots, before turning up Bishop Street to continue his patrol.

With trembling hands Kevin began to gather up his scattered possessions. Then, like one sleep-walking, he continued his journey down Bishop Street. He had only gone a few steps when a shot rang out. Instinctively, he threw himself to the ground. Two more shots followed in quick succession, and then silence.

He struggled to his feet and there, not fifty yards away his tormentor lay spread-eagled in the snow. Rooted to the spot, Kevin viewed the soldier dis passionately. A child’s toy, he thought, that’s what he looks like. Motionless and quiet;

a broken toy …

Then the realisation dawned as he watched the ever-increasing pool of blood stain the new snow.”

What haunted Kevin from that day, however, was not so much this picture of the dead soldier, but the sense that he himself had crossed an internal border. He had been glad when the soldier was shot and died; he had been unable to come to terms with the knowledge that he could feel like that. He had been unable to forgive not just the young soldier, but – perhaps worse – himself. The shadow of that day would never leave him, even after his family moved to Manchester. This had worked for a while, he’d married and had a child, and he had coped. But in the instant of the TV news report all that had been wiped out. The ‘troubles’ had found him again. They knew no borders.

Fortunately, this was a piece of fiction. Though there were thousands of deaths in Northern Ireland like that of the soldier throughout the troubles and bombings even after the PIRA cease-fire by the ‘Real IRA’, there was no renewal of the bombing campaigns on the mainland of Britain. But it could easily have been a real future for someone had it not been for the Good Friday Agreement.

An Easter ‘Pilgrimage’ to Dublin & Belfast, 1990:

What is Christian Socialism? Part Three   Leave a comment

The Search for a Christian Social Order:

Although the Nonconformist Churches in cities like Coventry played a major role in the growth of ‘Labour’ politics between the wars, Christian Socialist workshops were weak in organisation and unduly idealistic about the contribution of labour. However, Christian Socialist thinkers within the churches did good work both in securing a better legal framework within which workers’ organisations could develop, and fostered workers’ education.

Within the Church of England, the Christian Socialist ideas of F. D. Maurice had a tremendous influence on Anglican thought about the secular world in the twentieth century. This was partly due to the solid work of the Christian Social Union which had been founded in 1889 with Brooke Foss Westcott, the Cambridge New Testament scholar, later Bishop of Durham, as its first president.

In England this tradition came to its climax in the work of William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 to 1944. Temple had deep insights into the nature of Christian worship, and a commitment to evangelism; he constantly exercised ‘prophetic judgement’ on the social situation, keeping both this world and the next in equal focus.

003In 1932, the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, in his first major work, Moral Man and Immoral Society, had reacted strongly against the liberalism, optimistic humanism and moral idealism of the social gospel movement. In doing so, he was echoing the views of the Swiss pastor and theologian Karl Barth. However, he also made use of Marxist ideas in arguing that due to the fundamental evil in both man and human society, Christian political action called not simply for love, but for an attempt to give each group within society enough power to defend itself against exploitation by other groups.  Although relations between individuals might be seen as a matter of ethics, relations between groups were a matter of politics. Niebuhr himself took an active part in American politics, founding the Fellowship of Socialist Christians. In his later work, he criticised both the liberal and Marxist views of human nature equally in The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941-43). He stressed that the final answer to the human condition lay beyond history in the love of God as seen in the cross of Christ. At the same time, he emphasised that Christians must not opt out of the politics and power-struggles of the twentieth century. In Britain, William Temple gave this theology his own, practical cutting-edge:

If we have to choose between making men Christian and making the social order more Christian, we must choose the former. But there is no such antithesis… There is no hope of establishing a more Christian social order except through the labour and sacrifice of those in whom the Spirit of Christ is active, and the first necessity for progress is more and better Christians taking full responsibility as citizens for the political, social and economic system under which they and their fellows live.

Roman Catholic doctrine in the 1930s and 1940s was intrinsically and explicitly opposed to socialism, though this opinion was moderated in an encyclical issued by Pope Pius XI on 15 May 1931 Quadragesimo anno. In this, Pius described the major dangers for human freedom and dignity arising from unrestrained capitalism and totalitarian communism. Pius XI called upon true socialism to distance itself from totalitarian communism as a matter of clarity and also as a matter of principle. Communists were accused of attempting to overthrow all existing civil society, and Christian socialism, if allied to Communism, was deemed to be a contradiction in terms because of this. This attitude hardened during the Cold War, when both Poland and Hungary rebelled against Soviet control, with the support of their primates. In 1957, Pius XI famously wrote at that “no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist”, yet had clarified that a Catholic was free to vote for the British Labour Party, which was still, at that time, the UK affiliate of the Socialist International. Under Pope John Paul, the official Catholic attitude hardened once more in the 1980s with the Labour Party coming under attack for its failure to come out strongly enough in support of Solidarity, the Polish free trade union movement. More recently, left-wing ideological movements such as liberation theology in South America, from the 1970s, have argued for the compatibility of socialism and Catholicism. Influenced by this as a native of Argentina, Pope Francis has shown sympathy to socialist causes with claims such as that capitalism is “Terrorism against all of Humanity” and that “it is the communists who think like Christians. Christ spoke of a society where the poor, the weak and the marginalized have the right to decide.” In 2016 the Tradinista! social media group was formed of young Catholics devoted to a synthesis of Marxist and traditional Catholic critiques of political and economic liberalism, and to the promotion of a socialism that would be compatible with Catholic social teaching.

When I went to Bangor University in the mid-1970s, a second generation of Welsh Nationalist leaders had come to the fore, moving away from the pro-fascist politics of Saunders Lewis, its Catholic founder. These included R. Tudur Jones, Principal of the Bala Bangor Theological College, under whom I had the privilege of studying in my first year. His political stance, combined with the Calvinist doctrine of a corpus Christianum, and his deeply-held Christian pacifism, created an integrated vision that was significant to the religious and political life of Christian Wales in the later half of the 20th century. Jones argued that the “state should be a servant, to preserve order and to allow men to live the good life”.

Today, many Calvinistic Methodists, Baptists and Independents have come to accept same-sex marriage on the grounds that it delivers marriage equality in the eyes of the state while still allowing their congregations to follow their own conscience, thus upholding the traditional Biblical teaching on marriage through the separation of church and state. The Calvinist tradition in the Nonconformist churches in Wales and England has also influenced the Labour Party’s commitment to disarmament and nonviolence since the 1930s. I was a founding member of Cymdeithas y Cymod, the Welsh associate of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1974. In Wales, the Christian Pacifist tradition remained strong, influencing the student-led direct action campaigns of the 1970s, which sought to defend and uphold the position of the Welsh Language in society. Throughout Britain, Christian CND grew rapidly in the 1980s, and in 1982 the whole of Wales was declared to be a Nuclear Free Zone when all its local authorities refused to participate in the government’s ‘protect and survive’ scheme. This was an important turning point in the refusal of Christians to countenance a world destroyed by nuclear war and took place at a time of mass rallies and, of course, the Greenham Common protest, in which English Quaker women played a leading role. Church leaders like Bruce Kent were prominent in CND, as well as in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and solidarity campaigns with liberation movements in Latin America.

The Christian Socialist Movement was an amalgamation of the Society of Socialist Clergy and Ministers and the Socialist Christian League. R. H. Tawney made one of his last public appearances at the Movement’s inaugural meeting on 22 January 1960 (an annual memorial lecture is held in his honour). The Methodist minister and Peace Pledge Union leader, Donald Soper chaired the Movement until becoming its President in 1975. In August 2013 it announced that following a consultation with its members it would be changing its name to Christians on the Left.

I was one of those who opposed the change in name for two reasons. Firstly, because I felt that the new name was purely descriptive of a vague and continually shifting perspective on a purely secular spectrum as contrasted with a continuous spiritual tradition dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Secondly, it seems to lack the sense of action and interaction contained in the word ‘movement’. This seems to be underlined by the very recent success of ‘Momentum’ within the Labour Party. Its founders, perhaps wisely, did not describe themselves by their ‘ultra-left’ polar position, but by their bid for ‘power’ within the party. Christians are naturally reticent to talk about bidding for power for fear of being associated with ‘a love of power’. In 1974, Philip Potter, the then General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, gave the Alex Wood Memorial Lecture in London, entitling his talk, The Love of Power, or the Power of Love? In it, he referred to random examples from around the world to illustrate what he called ‘the tragic separation which grips the ‘oikoumene’, the whole inhabited earth.’ These included Ethiopia, Southern Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. To these he added ‘the tragic irony of Eastern Europe where a revolutionary effort at overcoming these separations has led to new forms of separation and oppression… the experience of the Socialist states has encouraged people to throw up their hands in despair and opt out of the struggle for change, because of the lack of a human face to socialism, as officially practised in those countries’.

Fifteen years later, that ‘practice’ was brought to an end, and one form of separation in Europe was brought to an end, and with it those in Southern Africa. Living in Hungary for twelve out of the last twenty-eight years, I have become increasingly wary of describing myself as any kind of socialist. By doing so, I now believe that we have allowed new divisions to take their place in twenty-first century European societies, leading to the decline of social democracy and the rise of populism and nationalism.

In Britain, we have abandoned the task of developing a form of human socialism, solidly rooted in the forms of Christian socialism of modern Britain, but with a broad appeal to those of all faiths and none. In the Labour Party, in particular, we are still set on repeating the ideological divisions of the past, especially of denigrating the importance of the ordinary individual in favour of the personality cult of ‘the leader’ of the mass movement. As Christians in politics in general, we are still beset by tribalism.  As a result, Potter’s conclusion is as fresh and challenging for me now as when I first read it in the FoR pamphlet:

It is this newness, this overcoming of separation, which is the summons to love with overwhelming power. And this love is a political act, it is the life of the ‘polis’, the city, which consists in listening, giving and forgiving… Its gates are never shut, and all the wealth and splendour of the nations in all their variety are brought into it. No more is the ‘oikoumene’ divided by closed walls. The very leaves of the trees are for the healing of broken humanity. Significantly, only two kinds of people are excluded from that city… those who either, in self-protecting cowardice, avoid involving themselves in the struggle against separation and disunity; or those who ruthlessly distort, exploit and destroy, exploit and destroy human beings, thus strengthening the walls of separation. A clear alternative is placed before us – the rejection of the love of power which produces and maintains separation, leading to death; or the power of love, which travails for the breaking down of separation and for the reunion of the ‘oikoumene’… that we may all share the endless life of the open city. The power of love is hope in action – action founded on the divine promise: ‘Behold I am making all things new’.

The first secularists: Puritans, Separatists and Baptists   1 comment

January 2015 Preface:

I first published this blogpost in April 2012, but have decided to re-publish it because of the number of times I have heard ‘secularism’ as a term misused over the last few days, mainly in response to the tragic events in Paris. ‘Experts’ have been called in to talk about ‘lycité’, and have pointed out that although there is a strict separation of state and church in France, the Catholic church still has a special status in terms of state funding, recognition in ceremonial events and the celebration of ‘holidays’ – not just Christmas and Easter, but also ‘Toussaint’ (‘All Saints’ – a two week school holiday) and ‘Shrovetide’ (‘La Jour des chandleurs!), among others. If France were truly a secular country, they have pointed out, equal preference in funding, ceremonial and celebrations would be given to the main protestant church and to Judaism and Islam. Eid would be made a national holiday, along with Pesach and Hannukah. Plus, there would be equal treatment in the display of religious symbols and dress. The other mistake which people make is to equate ‘secularism’ as practiced and/or advocated in Britain with ‘lycité’ in France. In the first place, secularism in Britain is much older. When Louis XIV got fed up with the Huguenots, he simply expelled them, and many of them settled in Britain, which had been briefly ‘secular’ under Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, since there was no established church and each parish could choose the form of protestantism it wanted. By the end of the seventeenth century, although the Church of England had been re-established, there was broad toleration of those who wanted to worship outside it, i.e. who wanted to be separate from the state in matters of religion. The French state broke with the Catholic Church in the Revolution and Reign of Terror, even instigating a purely secular calendar, but by the beginning of the nineteenth century most of the links were restored, though other churches and faiths were ‘tolerated’. In Britain, ‘secularism’ refers to the complete separation of church and state, or ‘disestablishment’ (which happened in Wales a century ago), but Scotland still has a ‘national’ church which has a special relationship with the state and, of course, the Queen is still Supreme Governor of the Church of England. However, the passing of the ‘Equal Marriage’ Act in 2013 has created a definition of marital status which is at odds with the definition of marriage in canon law and scripture, and this anomaly is already leading to some ‘nonconformist’ churches voluntarily giving up their right to marry couples on behalf of the state. So, in all but ceremonial life, the whole of Britain (excluding Northern Ireland) is a secular state, and there is little difference with France in overall status in reality if not in theory. Secularism therefore is not the equivalent of atheism, and both are multi-cultural liberal democracies in which subjects/ citizens have the rights and responsibilities of freedom of speech and worship.

An Unholy Muddle:

Britain is in a constitutional muddle over Church Schools, House of Lords reform and ‘Gay Marriage’. This muddle is the result of a series of compromises between church and state dating back to the sixteenth century, which have left the state at the centre of religious life in Britain, in the shape of the established Church of England and its supreme governor, HM the Queen, and, by the same token (over on the other side of the coin!) the ‘Church’ at the centre of political life, or at least very close to it, in the shape of the Bishops in the House of Lords. Marriage law is being fought over in a way it can’t be in other ‘Christian’ European countries where there is a distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage, and a clear separation between church and state. In Hungary, most couples who want to get married in church, a pub, the woods, or wherever, still have to ‘tie the knot’ in front of a civil registrar at some point. In Britain, there is only one ceremony, either in church, or in the registry office, which is both civil and religious. All the original religious words can be left out, but it’s still, effectively, a religious service. But it is secular, just as the church service is. That is, the couple chooses where to have the marriage witnessed, not the church or the state, and that’s an important principle which our forefathers, and foremothers, fought for. We may consider ourselves to be ‘British citizens’ but, in reality, we are ‘subjects’ of the Queen, and while we are free to worship in whatever way we want, or not at all, the English (at least) are still subject to the church, the Church of England, that is, which the Queen was charged with ‘defending’ when she took the coronation oath nearly sixty years ago now. Therefore, the government minister is clearly wrong. The Church does, quite clearly, own the ‘patent’ on marriage, though it now shares this with the state. This situation results from the ultimate failure of the first secularists to achieve a society in which they could worship freely, without interference from the state. These people were the ‘Baptists’, ‘Independents’ and ‘Congregationalists’, later joined by ‘Quakers’ and still later by ‘Methodists’ who formed the ‘free churches’ outside the Church of England.

The first Puritans:

The Elizabethan puritans wanted to reform the church from within, to make it more like Jean Calvin‘s church in Geneva, as part of a ‘Corpus Christianum’, a Christian state. They simply wanted to purify the national church from all the ceremonial remnants, vestiges and vestments of Roman Catholicism. They also questioned whether there was any biblical basis for the authority of bishops over the Church. Some wanted to replace them with a system of elders and synods, with stricter discipline. This became known as Presbyterianism. Elizabeth I resisted these changes and James I hated Presbyterians, threatening to ‘harry them out of the land.’ While many compromised uneasily within the state Church, others eventually left of their own accord, like the Pilgrim Fathers. However, a small group of separatists grew up alongside the main puritan group. They had formed their own independent congregation at Norwich in 1581, withdrawing completely from the Church, which they believed to be so polluted it could not be cleansed from within. The government of their chapel was based on a ‘covenant’, marking the beginning of the ‘Congregationalist’ movement. They were persecuted by the authorities and driven abroad to the Netherlands. The Dutch were tolerant of religious nonconformity, and allowed the English independents refugee status and freedom of worship. It was from Leiden that one of these groups emigrated to New England, via Plymouth, in 1621. Other groups returned to England, led by Thomas Helwys, who, in 1612, founded the first openly ‘Baptist’ church in London, four hundred years ago this week.

The first English Baptists:

Helwys’ group formed the first General or Arminian Baptist Congregation in England at Spitalfields in 1612. Arminianism was a rejection of Calvinist ideas of predestination and ‘God’s Elect’, and the belief that God’s grace is available to all. They practised believers’ baptism as a sign of this.  By 1638, there were also Calvinists in London who practised believers’ baptism, and these became known as ‘Particular Baptists‘. They had grown out of the first independent congregations in the capital, and their understanding of the church as a gathered community led to them professing that only the baptism of believers fitted such a view. Helwys’ group had been much influenced by the Dutch Mennonites, but both the General and Particular Baptist churches developed out of a conscientious search for the true pattern of the ‘apostolic church’ of the New Testament and the first century.

Church, State and New Model Army:

These youthful Baptist churches were soon at the centre of the debate about the relationship between church and  state, or, as they put it then, ‘the magistrate’.  They sought guidance from the scriptures about proper Christian obedience. At the same time, the Presbyterians within the Church of England were growing in strength and becoming more vocal in their opposition to Charles I’s reactionary changes in church worship. They also found their political voice in Parliament, Charles’ dissolution of which and his attempts to impose his new Prayer Book on the Presbyterian Scots, led ultimately to Civil War between the Monarchy and Parliament. Many of the officers in the New Model Army which won the war under Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell were drawn from Independent and Baptist congregations, as were the professional, often radical, rank and file. Since it was the ‘New Model’ which effectively won the War for Parliament, their views had to be taken into account in the shaping of church and state without the King and ‘Supreme Governor.’

Grace Abounding:

John Bunyan (1628-88) was one of these poor ‘russet-coated’ soldiers who became a member of an independent congregation in Bedford in 1651. Despairing over his spiritual state for several years, he eventually received assurance of  God’s ‘Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,‘ the title of his first book.  Under Cromwell’s Protectorate the established church continued, but its pulpits were filled with Baptist, Independent and Presbyterian ministers, alongside Protestant Anglicans. Those who still wished to worship separately were allowed to do so, provided they did not disturb the peace. The majority of Baptist ministers continued to serve independent congregations, which achieved the peak of numerical strength and national influence during the Commonwealth period, though even then their strength was being reduced by a drift to more radical ‘sects’ like the Quakers and ‘Fifth Monarchists’, like Vavasour Powell, who openly opposed Cromwell’s rule. Baptist congregations were more ‘quietist’ in manner, claiming their local independence as congregations, free from state interference through the established church.  This did not mean that they thought the local congregation had complete competence to decide in religious matters. That was to be discerned from the reading and preaching of God’s word by ministers ordained in the apostolic succession, in association with the church meeting, its ‘deacons’ and with other churches in each ‘region’. These ‘regional associations’ led to the setting up of a ‘General Assembly’, providing for mutual assistance between the churches. Through this, they also continued to discuss ‘the place of the magistrate’.

By the time of the Restoration of Charles II (1660) there were roughly 300 General and Particular Baptist Churches. The Broadmead Records for Bristol at this time, give graphic accounts of the price of dissent in the years between the Act of Uniformity of 1662 and the Act of Toleration in 1689. Bunyan’s preaching in Bedford soon led to his imprisonment after the Restoration, and he spent much of the next twelve years under lock and key. Following a further spell behind bars in 1676, he wrote his epic allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which ‘Christian’ overcomes many hazards, fleeing the ‘City of Destruction’ and the ‘Slough of Despond’ to the foot of the cross, before finally reaching ‘the shining city’. Bunyan’s language is a happy mixture of homespun phrases and echoes of the English Bible. His beliefs come straight from the pages of the Bible, shaped by his own fiercely Independent position, and his book soon became a perennial classic, second in popularity only to the ‘King James’ Bible, and the only other book in many village cottages and humble town dwellings for the next 150 years or more.

Evangelicals and Empire:

Even after Toleration, many Baptist Congregations stuck tenaciously to their local autonomy, and it wasn’t until 1792 that the need to establish a Missionary Society, pioneered by William Carey, also led to the development of denominational organisation.  Carey’s many-sided work in India included Bible translation and production, evangelism, church-planting, education and medical relief, as well as social reform, linguistic and horticultural research. The message of his Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation gave British evangelicals a world-wide vision, and revived the churches at home. Of course, all this was achieved before the British Empire and its establishment Anglicans jealously took over the work of ‘civilising’ the Indians, eventually leading to the ‘Indian Mutiny’ of 1857 and the establishment of ‘the Raj’.

Dissent, Definition and Division:

So, British life and culture owes much to these early secularists, who achieved so much in the face of prejudice and persecution. Their ‘Dissent’ was creative, not simply iconoclastic. The atheistic secularists four hundred years later might do well to examine their consciences before they cause further division and destruction to the shared, independent values of the majority of British people, even if these people are largely unaware of the origins of those values.

All of these people should think very hard before they allow the state to interfere again in their right to worship according to their conscience. We may only be, in Quaker terms, witnesses to a marriage ceremony, but even for Quakers, this takes place in a ‘Meeting for Worship’ and in a place of worship. The state cannot insist that churches marry couples against their consciences, which is where the proposed legislation redefining marriage will undoubtedly lead. It is not a question of equality, but it is one of liberty.

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