Is the UK a Christian country? Archbishop Justin Welby responds.

Archbishop Justin Welby

There has been lots of debate in the last couple of weeks surrounding the issue of whether or not the UK is a Christian country, following David Cameron’s article in the Church Times.  Following various responses, Archbishop Justin Welby has written a thought provoking and humorous response to the debate:

History provides as many uncomfortable facts as science. Neither can be ignored if anyone is going to talk sense. Last week, the Prime Minister wrote rather movingly in the Church Times about his sense of this as a Christian country.

It followed up other comments from Cabinet Ministers saying similar things, and finished on Tuesday with a very measured intervention by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, whose own Christian faith is well known.

Judging by the reaction, anyone would think that the people concerned had at the same time suggested the return of the Inquisition (complete with comfy chairs for Monty Python fans), compulsory church going and universal tithes. More than 50 leading atheists wrote to the Telegraph in protest.

It’s all quite baffling and at the same time quite encouraging. Christian faith is much more vulnerable to comfortable indifference than to hatred and opposition. It’s also a variation on the normal “Sword and Grail discovered” stuff that seems to be a feature of Easter week news.

Yet the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have not said anything very controversial. It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society ……  All have been shaped by and founded on Christianity. Add to that the foundation of many hospitals, the system of universal schooling, the presence of chaplains in prisons, and one could go on a long time. Then there is the literature, visual art, music and culture that have formed our understandings of beauty and worth since Anglo Saxon days.

It is clear that, in the general sense of being founded in Christian faith, this is a Christian country. It is certainly not in terms of regular churchgoing, although altogether, across different denominations, some millions attend church services each week. Others of different backgrounds have also positively shaped our common heritage. But the language of what we are, what we care for and how we act is earthed in Christianity, and would remain so for many years even if the number of believers dropped out of sight (which they won’t, in my opinion).

The atheist protesters are wrong to argue that expressing confidence in the country’s Christian identity fosters alienation and division in our society. Indeed, it is significant that non-Christian faith leaders – among them Anil Bhanot of the Hindu Council UK, Farooq Murad of the Muslim Council of Britain and Lord Indarjit Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations –  have spoken out in support of Mr Cameron. Mr Murad said: “No one can deny that Britain remains largely a Christian country, with deep historical and structural links with the established Church. . . We respect that.”

I know from personal experience that what Mr Murad says is entirely true. And I know that, as Iain Duncan Smith pointed out, the influence of a moderate and careful and generous Christian faith has enabled us to be welcoming to other faiths. That sense of generous hospitality provides the basis for tough discussion, and it is a hospitality that protects atheists as well, and so it should.

So why the fuss? As I say, for all of us, in the church, of Christian faith, of any tradition or set of beliefs, history makes for some uncomfortable reading. Its facts are awkward for all of us, but it is no use pretending they do not exist. The PM is right on this.

China to be ‘World’s Most Christian Nation’ in the Next 15 Years

Chinese church

Research in The Telegraph shows that the church in China is growing at such a rate that in the next 15 years it will be “the world’s most Christian nation”, and by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America:

Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.

“It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”

China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.

“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”

A recent study found that online searches for the words “Christian Congregation” and “Jesus” far outnumbered those for “The Communist Party” and “Xi Jinping”, China’s president.

Funny headlines from around the world

Some of the more random headlines from the BBC News website over the last week or so:

The worst place to have a car fire – the lions enclosure in a drive-through safari

Car fire at Longleat

Where would be the absolutely worst place for your car to catch fire? In the lion enclosure of a drive-through safari. And that’s what happened to Helen Clements and her two children when they visited Longleat Safari Park:

Mrs Clements said she thought her car had overheated when it stopped inside the enclosure.

“Then basically, we thought: ‘That’s not steam, that’s actually smoke’,” she told BBC News.

“It was getting thicker and thicker and obviously coming into us, and then we saw flames.”

She sounded her horn and both she and George opened their doors, before rangers came running towards them.

“Unfortunately they were shouting to us: ‘Get back in the car, do not get out of the car’,” she added.

Her son ran out but she called him back and within moments, a ranger had pulled up in a vehicle and got them out of the car.

They could not see the lions at the time as other cars were in front of them.

The lions did not approach, because they are smart enough to know fire when they see it. Still, it was a frightening incident. Rangers moved the lions out of the enclosure before firefighters extinguished the flames.

Britain’s youngest parents

Baby

A 12-year-old girl has given birth to her 13-year-old boyfriend’s baby, making them Britain’s youngest parents.

The girl, at 12 years, three months, is the UK’s youngest mother, after giving birth to a 7lb baby girl last weekend.  She fell pregnant at 11, while still at primary school, shortly after starting a relationship with a boy who lives near her family home in north London, The Sun reports.

The parents, who cannot be identified due to legal reasons, have the lowest combined age of any British parents in history.

A source close to the family said the pair, who have been in a relationship for over a year, were ‘totally in love’ and plan to bring up their newborn daughter together.  They told The Sun:

“Both sets of grandparents are incredibly supportive. It’s a very difficult situation because the parents are both so young – but their families are right behind them.  The baby’s mum and dad have been in a relationship for more than year, so this isn’t a fleeting romance. They intend to stick together and bring their daughter up together.”

The young mother’s father later confirmed both sets of grandparents have been ‘very supportive’ of the young parents.  The baby’s grandfather broke his silence to radio station LBC, admitting that both families only discovered the news when the unnamed girl was eight months pregnant:

“Before people judge they should find out what’s happened.  All we can do is be supportive, which is what we’re doing.  It is heartbreaking, of course it is. For any man to find out their daughter has become pregnant. It is but you can’t turn back time, you can only go forwards.”

The man, who is separated from his daughter’s mother, said they had not allowed the sexual relationship but said he could not watch his daughter 24/7.  As a business owner he hit out at accusations the family were dependent on benefits and said: ‘We’re not scroungers. I will support this baby as much as I can with my own money.’

He described the new father as a ‘great kid’ and claimed he would prefer this situation to discovering his daughter had been taking drugs.  When asked whether he was ashamed, he told LBC ‘shame doesn’t come into it’ and said he still felt ‘proud’ of his daughter.  He added: ‘She’s brought something beautiful into the world and we’re going to stand by her.’

The proud parents posted a picture of them posing with their baby daughter online.  The young mother, who lives with her mother, hopes to return to school in September.  At 27, her mother is one of the UK’s youngest ever grandmothers.

As a youth worker there are so many context questions I want to ask about this news story, but it does make me come back to the importance of the church leading on SRE for our children and young people.

Portraits of Reconciliation from Rwanda

20 years after the genocide in Rwanda, reconciliation still happens one encounter at a time.  Check out these fab photos and article in The New York Times, via Lyndhurst Deanery:

Last month, the photographer Pieter Hugo went to southern Rwanda, two decades after nearly a million people were killed during the country’s genocide, and captured a series of unlikely, almost unthinkable tableaus. In one, a woman rests her hand on the shoulder of the man who killed her father and brothers. In another, a woman poses with a casually reclining man who looted her property and whose father helped murder her husband and children. In many of these photos, there is little evident warmth between the pairs, and yet there they are, together. In each, the perpetrator is a Hutu who was granted pardon by the Tutsi survivor of his crime.

The people who agreed to be photographed are part of a continuing national effort toward reconciliation and worked closely with AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent), a nonprofit organization. In AMI’s program, small groups of Hutus and Tutsis are counseled over many months, culminating in the perpetrator’s formal request for forgiveness. If forgiveness is granted by the survivor, the perpetrator and his family and friends typically bring a basket of offerings, usually food and sorghum or banana beer. The accord is sealed with song and dance.

The photographs on the following pages are a small selection of a larger body on display — outdoors, in large format — starting this month in The Hague. The series was commissioned by Creative Court, an arts organization based there, as part of “Rwanda 20 Years,” a program exploring the theme of forgiveness. The images will eventually be shown at memorials and churches in Rwanda.

At the photo shoots, Hugo said, the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators varied widely. Some pairs showed up and sat easily together, chatting about village gossip. Others arrived willing to be photographed but unable to go much further. “There’s clearly different degrees of forgiveness,” Hugo said. “In the photographs, the distance or closeness you see is pretty accurate.”

In interviews conducted by AMI and Creative Court for the project, the subjects spoke of the pardoning process as an important step toward improving their lives. “These people can’t go anywhere else — they have to make peace,” Hugo explained. “Forgiveness is not born out of some airy-fairy sense of benevolence. It’s more out of a survival instinct.” Yet the practical necessity of reconciliation does not detract from the emotional strength required of these Rwandans to forge it — or to be photographed, for that matter, side by side.

Here’s a few of the photos:

Rwanda Reconciliation 2

Jean Pierre Karenzi - Perpetrator (left)

Viviane Nyiramana - Survivor

KARENZI: “My conscience was not quiet, and when I would see her I was very ashamed. After being trained about unity and reconciliation, I went to her house and asked for forgiveness. Then I shook her hand. So far, we are on good terms.”

NYIRAMANA: “He killed my father and three brothers. He did these killings with other people, but he came alone to me and asked for pardon. He and a group of other offenders who had been in prison helped me build a house with a covered roof. I was afraid of him — now I have granted him pardon, things have become normal, and in my mind I feel clear.”

Rwanda Reconciliation 3

Godefroid Mudaheranwa - Perpetrator (left)

Evasta Mukanyandwi - Survivor

MUDAHERANWA: “I burned her house. I attacked her in order to kill her and her children, but God protected them, and they escaped. When I was released from jail, if I saw her, I would run and hide. Then AMI started to provide us with trainings. I decided to ask her for forgiveness. To have good relationships with the person to whom you did evil deeds — we thank God.”

MUKANYANDWI: “I used to hate him. When he came to my house and knelt down before me and asked for forgiveness, I was moved by his sincerity. Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me. When I face any issue, I call him.”

Rwanda Reconciliation 4

Juvenal Nzabamwita - Perpetrator (right)

Cansilde Kampundu - Survivor

NZABAMWITA: “I damaged and looted her property. I spent nine and a half years in jail. I had been educated to know good from evil before being released. And when I came home, I thought it would be good to approach the person to whom I did evil deeds and ask for her forgiveness. I told her that I would stand by her, with all the means at my disposal. My own father was involved in killing her children. When I learned that my parent had behaved wickedly, for that I profoundly begged her pardon, too.”

KAMPUNDU: “My husband was hiding, and men hunted him down and killed him on a Tuesday. The following Tuesday, they came back and killed my two sons. I was hoping that my daughters would be saved, but then they took them to my husband’s village and killed them and threw them in the latrine. I was not able to remove them from that hole. I knelt down and prayed for them, along with my younger brother, and covered the latrine with dirt. The reason I granted pardon is because I realized that I would never get back the beloved ones I had lost. I could not live a lonely life — I wondered, if I was ill, who was going to stay by my bedside, and if I was in trouble and cried for help, who was going to rescue me? I preferred to grant pardon.”

Funny headlines from around the world

Some of the more random headlines from the BBC News website over the last week or so: