Tag Archives: Britain

Is Britain a Christian Country?

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Religion and Contemporary Britain. (from the Telegraph)

Overall religion recorded a net positive score of just four per cent in Western Europe – less than the global score of 37 per cent positivity, and 33 per cent recorded in Eastern Europe 
6:30AM BST 17 Apr 2014
The British are among the most sceptical in the world about religion, a global study has found.
Just over a third of people in the UK believe religion has a positive role to play in our daily lives, compared to a global average of 59 per cent.
More than a quarter of Britons said they believe religious belief actually has a negative impact, while in countries like America and Hong Kong very few held this opinion.
The UK follows a trend in Western Europe to be sceptical of the role of religion, which is believed to be due to a greater acceptance of and number of people having secular beliefs.
Overall religion recorded a net positive score of just four per cent in Western Europe – less than the global score of 37 per cent positivity, and 33 per cent recorded in Eastern Europe.
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This net, or overall, score was calculated by subtracting the total percentage of people who said religion has a negative impact on their country from those who said it is a positive aspect in their lives.
Jean-Marc Leger, president of WIN/Gallup International which polled 66,806 people for the survey, said: “Over half of the world still believes that religion plays a positive role in their country.
“Having said that, it is interesting to note that Western Europe bucks this trend considerably, highlighting the complex role of religion within the region and the impact that a secular outlook has on a country.”
Africa was the most positive region, while Indonesia was the most positive country in the world about religion.
Nine countries were highly sceptical and recorded overall negativity towards religion, including Denmark which was the most negative at -36 per cent and France which scored -22 per cent.
The survey also found education and religious belief affect attitudes to spiritual belief.
A lower net positivity of 20 per cent was recorded among people who were educated to Masters or PhD level, compared to a net score of 57 per cent among those with no education.
Muslims and Protestants were also more optimistic about the impact of belief, while Hindus were the least positive.

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Judge Dread (Islamic law is adopted by British legal chiefs)

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Under ground-breaking guidance, produced by The Law Society, High Street solicitors will be able to write Islamic wills Photo: ALAMY

Telegraph.co.uk – Sunday 23 March 2014   By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor 22 Mar 2014

Islamic law is to be effectively enshrined in the British legal system for the first time under guidelines for solicitors on drawing up “Sharia compliant” wills.

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.

Some lawyers, however, described the guidance as “astonishing”, while campaigners warned it represented a major step on the road to a “parallel legal system” for Britain’s Muslim communities.
Baroness Cox, a cross-bench peer leading a Parliamentary campaign to protect women from religiously sanctioned discrimination, including from unofficial Sharia courts in Britain, said it was a “deeply disturbing” development and pledged to raise it with ministers.
“This violates everything that we stand for,” she said. “It would make the Suffragettes turn in their graves.”
The guidance, quietly published this month and distributed to solicitors in England and Wales, details how wills should be drafted to fit Islamic traditions while being valid under British law.
It suggests deleting or amending standard legal terms and even words such as “children” to ensure that those deemed “illegitimate” are denied any claim over the inheritance.
It recommends that some wills include a declaration of faith in Allah which would be drafted at a local mosque, and hands responsibility for drawing up some papers to Sharia courts.
The guidance goes on to suggest that Sharia principles could potentially overrule British practices in some disputes, giving examples of areas that would need to be tested in English courts.
Currently, Sharia principles are not formally addressed by or included in Britain’s laws.  However, a network of Sharia courts has grown up in Islamic communities to deal with disputes between Muslim families.

A few are officially recognised tribunals, operating under the Arbitration Act.
They 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.
But many more unofficial Sharia courts are also in operation.
Parliament has been told of a significant network of more informal Sharia tribunals and “councils”, often based in mosques, dealing with religious divorces and even child custody matters in line with religious teaching.
They offer “mediation” rather than adjudication, although some hearings are laid out like courts with religious scholars or legal experts sitting in a manner more akin to judges than counsellors.
One study estimated that there were now around 85 Sharia bodies operating in Britain. But the new Law Society guidance represents the first time that an official legal body has recognised the legitimacy of some Sharia principles.
It opens the way for non-Muslim lawyers in High Street firms to offer Sharia will drafting services. The document sets out crucial differences between Sharia inheritance laws and Western traditions.
It explains how, in Islamic custom, inheritances are divided among a set list of heirs determined by ties of kinship rather than named individuals. It acknowledges the possibility of people having multiple marriages.
“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class,” the guidance says. “Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised.
Similarly, a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir, as the entitlement depends on a valid Muslim marriage existing at the date of death. This means you should amend or delete some standard will clauses.”

It advises lawyers to draft special exclusions from the Wills Act 1837, which allows gifts to pass to the children of an heir who has died, because this is not recognised in Islamic law.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “This guidance marks a further stage in the British legal establishment’s undermining of democratically determined human rights-compliant law in favour of religious law from another era and another culture. British equality law is more comprehensive in scope and remedies than any elsewhere in the world. Instead of protecting it, The Law Society seems determined to sacrifice the progress made in the last 500 years.”
Lady Cox said: “Everyone has freedom to make their own will and everyone has freedom to let those wills reflect their religious beliefs. But to have an organisation such as The Law Society seeming to promote or encourage a policy which is inherently gender discriminatory in a way which will have very serious implications for women and possibly for children is a matter of deep concern.”

 

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FOOTNOTE:  Scots Law is different from English; I don’t know if this will apply here (Meenister)

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What did the Romans Really Think about Britain? (from “Prehistoric Shamanism”)

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In 2008, a metal detectorist found a copper Roman knife handle in a field in Syston, Lincolnshire. It wasn’t very large and sold for a mere £1,000 but is now the centrepiece of the Roman galleries in Lincolnshire Museum. It has already caused quite a stir. You only have to look at the handle to see why. In the straight-laced way of museums, it is being described as an “erotic scene”. In reality, it shows a naked woman straddling an aroused man while she holds onto another naked man clasping a severed head. I am sure we have all experienced parties like that. But this handle is particularly special as it is not just an erotic scene but may also cast light on what late Roman soldiers thought of their posting to Britain.

The largest figure on the handle wears a distinctive cap with a flat top rather like a pork-pie hat. From carvings and frescos in other parts of the Roman world, the headgear would suggest he is a Roman soldier from around the late 3rd or early 4th century. Such flat-topped caps were very popular and the fact the soldier is shown larger than the two other figures supports the identification. Moreover, the crudeness of its manufacture and the cheap metal used suggests the handle was not grand; this knife was for a common sort. It was likely a soldier’s knife and, fittingly, it’s owner took the starring role upon it.

The man holding the severed head is clearly a Celt. The Romans often portrayed Celts as headhunters and this man, completely naked, is living up to his stereotype. Unlike the soldier, this man is not aroused.

The woman who straddles the Roman soldier is naked but for a few lines on her body. One, around her neck, may be a torc, possibly a crude sign of royalty perhaps. The draped lines across her body may represent chains (they do not take the form of clothing), suggesting the woman has been defeated and humbled. The most obvious identification is Boudicca, the warrior Queen who provided a genuine military threat to Roman conquest of these isles. Portraying her in chains and sexually available brutally demonstrates her utter defeat and the ensuing dominance of the Roman military.

But, and this is curious, the penis of the Roman soldier does not point towards Boudicca but between the two figures (or even at the man holding the severed head), as if the soldier would happily give it to them both. Perhaps he would.

A more nuanced interpretation is that this is not an erotic scene – no actual intercourse is going to take place – but a triumphalist scene showing Roman domination over the Celts and their most famous Queen. In this sense, Boudicca stands for Britannia, the country of Britain.

Possibly, the Roman soldier is about to give the island of Britain and her inhabitants a good seeing to, and perhaps this is the message contained in the knife handle. It may have been a satirical comment of Roman rule and carried by an indigenous Briton, but I think it’s more likely to have belonged to a Roman soldier, doing his bit visibly to “stick it” to the Celts. Following the famous words of Caesar, perhaps he would even describe his role as “Veni, vidi, futuō”.

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Church Growth

Startling academic research shows widespread Church growth in Britain

By David Goodhew

Cranmer Hall, Durham

Sit down, breathe deeply – I have some shocking news to give you. The church in Britain is growing. Yes, I know this sounds mad. The TV and the newspapers routinely depict churches as half-empty and populated by geriatrics. Not a few church leaders and congregation members walk around like Fraser from Dad’s Army, declaring ‘You’re all Doomed !!’ But there is something else going on.

An international team of leading researchers, based at Cranmer Hall, Durham, have just published a study entitled Church Growth in Britain from 1980 to the Present. Here are just a few of the extraordinary statistics that have been unearthed:

– There are 500,000 Christians in black majority churches in Britain. Sixty years ago there were hardly any

– At least 5,000 new churches have been started in Britain since 1980 – and this is an undercount. The true figure is probably higher

– There are one million Christians in Britain from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities

– The adult membership of the Anglican Diocese of London has risen by over 70 per cent since 1990.

Research Endorsed by Bishops and Leading Academics

This research has been endorsed by a range of senior academics and church leaders – from Justin Welby, the new Bishop of Durham, to Archbishop Vincent Nicholls, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Professor David Bebbington, the leading historian of evangelicalism comments: “This is excellent research. It is commonly supposed that the Christian church in Britain is moribund, but the essays in this volume all demonstrate, from different angles, that in the recent past there are signs of vitality and growth.

“Nor is the vigour confined to new churches, for mainstream bodies have also participated in the upward trend here depicted with scholarly care.”

Durham Bishop Justin Welby responded to the research in this way: “Church decline is neither inevitable in prospect nor accurate in retrospect. This book reviews the reality of what is happening in Christian religious practice in the UK. As such it comes at a crucial time, when the Church of England appears to be gathering the will to change, and when an accurate and reasoned understanding of what is really happening, and has done so since 1980, is essential.

How can these things be ?

‘How can these things be ?’ you may be saying. ‘Isn’t there lots of church decline going on?’ The media tell me of thousands of churches closing. Many church leaders bemoan shrinking congregations.

The reason for the tension between this research and the picture often painted is twofold. Firstly, media, academia and many church leaders routinely ignore church growth. The growth of new churches and ethnic minority churchgoing has been happening for years – but it flies beneath the radar of most academics, most of the media and not a few in the Anglican Church.

Secondly, evidence of church growth and decline needs to be looked at together. The contemporary British church is both declining and growing. Where you look affects what you find. The real picture for the last 30 years looks something like this:

– Roughly the same number of churches have closed as have opened

– Some denominations have seen serious decline – notably the ‘mainline’ denominations – Anglican, Methodist, URC, Catholic

– Some churches have seen major growth; especially churches rooted in ethnic minority communities and newer denominations

– Some parts of the mainline churches are seeing growth – Anglican growth centres on the Diocese of London (the one Anglican diocese which has consistently grown over the last 20 years) and new Anglican churches/fresh expressions.

Six Lessons for the Church of England

– Firstly, there is hope. We are bombarded by media (and not a few church leaders and members) who assume that society is inexorably getting more secular, that there is nothing much we can do. A glance at nations such as China, where there has been massive church growth despite very difficult conditions, ought to inoculate us from such fatalism. And the evidence from Britain shows there is large-scale, long-lasting church growth happening in Britain. Despair is both wrong theologically and flies in the face of the evidence.

– Secondly, church growth often involves people from ethnic minorities. And it is striking that the churches that most effectively harness such people come from outside the mainstream churches. The Church of England may have a black archbishop, but black Christians are much more frequently found outside, rather than inside the Church of England. How can the CofE change to release the gifts of non-white Anglicans ? Perhaps we need to import some leaders and humbly learn from those parts of the wider Anglican Communion that have seen serious church growth ?

– Thirdly, church planting is the most effective single strategy for growing the church. Every diocese needs a church planting strategy.

– Fourth, church growth happens most often along the ‘trade routes’ of Britain – places where there is population growth, immigration and economic dynamism. Thus, towns along the East Coast mainline – like London, York and Edinburgh – are more likely to see growth than elsewhere. This doesn’t mean church growth only happens along trade routes, only that it is more likely there. It is easier to grow churches in Kensington than Cumbria. We need growing churches everywhere. But leaders in areas suffering population loss and economic decline shouldn’t beat themselves up when they find the ground resistant to growth. Conversely, we need to identify the ‘trade-routes’ as seedbeds for church growth, just as St Paul worked along the trade-routes of the Mediterranean to reach the ancient world.

– Fifthly, the Diocese of London is the centre of Anglican church growth. This is not comfortable news for other dioceses – and no cause for pride in London. Nonetheless, the wider Anglican family needs to ask why London has bucked the trend and others have not. In particular, it is striking that it was under Archbishop David Hope that London changed from decline to growth – what is it about what he did that we all can learn from ?

– Sixth, we need a theology of church growth. We need to articulate plainly why growing the church is what God wants – and let go of the fatalism that wider Western culture has insinuated into the hearts of both individual Christians, congregations and church structures.

Hope for the Church

Church Growth in Britain offers hope to local churches. It echoes and reinforces the work pioneered by Bob Jackson a decade ago. The ‘secularisation thesis’, which assumes western countries are inexorably getting more secular, is simply not true. Moreover, church leaders and members need rescuing from the despair that this thesis encourages. We have developed in many parts of the Anglican Church a kind of ‘eschatology of despair’ that feeds into an ecclesiology of decline. When we think English churches are doomed to shrink, we behave accordingly – and then they do shrink. But the evidence shows that substantial church growth can and is happening in contemporary Britain.

This is a bracing, but hugely exciting challenge for the Church of England. We can stop moping round like Private Fraser. Instead of an eschatology of despair, we should grasp an eschatology of hope, which leads into a theology of church growth. Jesus remains such as magnetic as he was 2,000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is just as widely at work – if we have eyes to see him. Research into church growth in contemporary Britain shows that when people step out in faith God uses that faith to grow churches and bless communities.

To find out more:

Church Growth in Britain from 1980 to the Present, has just been published by Ashgate and is available from bookshops and online booksellers. It will be formally launched at Church House, Westminster on Tuesday 19 June, 5-6.30 pm. This is followed by a conference at Cranmer Hall, Durham, ‘Church Growth in the North’, on 2 July. For more information, contact Esther Kisby, via e.j.kisby@durham.ac.uk

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