Britain has never been a Christian country

Happy Easter!

As Christians around the world mark Easter Sunday and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, there are some who are using the occasion to demand that Britain needs to turn the clock back.

The right-wing lobby group Christian Concern has published a survey suggesting that 73% of the public believe that Britain has become “less of a Christian country” since the general election five years ago.

This suits Christian Concern in their attempt to push their two main messages: Firstly, that Britain should be a Christian country. Secondly, that Britain is no longer a Christian country.

David Cameron has also been known to employ such language, albeit from a different angle. In his Easter address this year, he insisted that Britain is still a “Christian country”. His address, which  made no reference to Jesus, seemed to confuse “Christian values” with middle class respectability.

I have on many occasions challenged groups such as Christian Concern to explain how Britain was “Christian” when its leaders were involved in the slave trade, when its representatives were committing genocide in Tasmania and when its troops were setting up concentration camps in South Africa. They have never answered this question.

I have little idea of what a “Christian country” is supposed to be. Jesus never said anything about establishing Christian countries. This is hardly surprising, given his general hostility to political and religious authorities. But if a “Christian country” is supposed to mean a country based on Jesus’ teachings, then Britain has never been a Christian country. Nor has anywhere else.

Judging from their press release today, Christian Concern seem to think that Britain is “less Christian” because of the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Jesus’ teachings on poverty, violence and power, about which he said a great deal more than sexuality, seem not to concern them.

On Good Friday, we remember Jesus’ execution at the hands of a brutal empire with the collusion of the religious establishment. On Easter Day, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, in which God breaks through the cycle of violence and reveals that the power of love and liberation will ultimately triumph over the evil, oppression and injustice. Today, let’s seek to follow – however imperfectly – Jesus’ example of loving resistance and active nonviolence. This means challenging the powers of this world as well as allowing ourselves to be challenged. It has nothing to do with “Christian countries”.

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