The Jesmond Conference 2015 - Statement

(The following is the Statement agreed at the recent Jesmond Conference held at the Holiday Inn, Jesmond. It was a private conference for Anglican clergy and others involved in schools, student and youth work, in various capacities.)

The conference and British values

On the 23rd and 24th February 2015 18 Anglican clergy together with Christian head teachers, school governors, lawyers, youth and student church workers met together in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne for 24 hours at the Jesmond Conference (on British values in the light of the Bible and the Christian tradition). This was convened by the vicar of Jesmond, David Holloway, to consider the Government's statement of "fundamental British values". These its Department for Education brought to public attention in the summer of 2014 in response to some non faith-based state-maintained Birmingham schools where there were attempts to make them, as was alleged, into Muslim schools. These "fundamental British values" that educational institutions (including nurseries) must now "actively promote" are: 1) democracy, 2) the rule of law, 3) individual liberty and 4) mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.

In preparation for the conference members read the short book produced for the conference, British Values and the National Church – essays on Church and State from 1964-2014 (The Latimer Trust, 2015). This highlighted the fact that the values or aims of a society have to be backed up by fundamental world-views, outlooks or assumptions; and these assumptions that have given rise to the Government's British values have been assumptions from the Christian tradition. But this tradition has also given rise to the "fundamental British value" the pursuit of truth, which the Government has ignored.

British values 1944

The last major "national conversation" on British values was in 1944, with Hitler still undefeated, and of which the debates relating to the great Education Act 1944 were a significant part. The fact of the essential nature of the Christian tradition was at that time made so clear by Lord Selbourne. Summing up for the Government in the concluding debate on the bill in the House of Lords, he famously said that Anglo-Saxon democracy cannot function "unless it is based on the Christian ethic, and if it is transplanted to any country where that ethic is rejected, it would wither and die amid great human suffering" (prophetic words for the 21st century and the situation in North Africa and the Middle East); and his final words were these:

"The real enemy is … the naked materialistic paganism, which has reared its head in Europe to a height unknown for a 1000 years, and which threatens Christendom today. and with it our civilization, our homes and our people. I trust and pray that this Bill … may lead us to an England that is not only better educated, more cultured, better qualified to face the tasks of citizenship and better equipped in craftsman ship, but also an England which allows as never before the principle of liberty, justice, toleration and discipline on which this realm depends, and which themselves are founded on the teaching of the Church of Christ."

The need to add "the pursuit of truth" and "the Christian tradition"

Furthermore, as a new Europe was being born it was unashamedly Christian. On 19 March 1958, addressing the first European Parliament, Robert Schuman, architect and driving force of the European Community said, "all the countries of Europe are permeated by Christian civilization. It is the soul of Europe which must be restored to it".

Aware of these historical concerns, the vicar of Jesmond had called the conference on the basis that the Government's British values are urgently in need of supplementing as follows:

"democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different beliefs, the pursuit of truth and the Christian tradition" (with the latter to be interpreted in the light of the requirement for all schools subject to Section 375(3) of the Education Act 1996 which says 'the religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain')."

The need for "the pursuit of truth" is fundamental in the British liberal tradition, both in terms of science and honesty – with truthfulness, according to John Locke the great advocate for liberal tolerance, "the bond of human society". The need for "the Christian tradition" is because it prevents 1) democracy allowing 51 percent to enslave 49 percent of the people, 2) the rule of law sanctioning what is dehumanizing, 3) individual liberty fracturing social order and drifting into anarchy; and "the Christian tradition" requires 4) mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. For accepting "God and Caesar" unlike extreme Secularism (only accepting Caesar) and extreme Islam (only accepting God), it uniquely allows for pluralism; it sees each person made in God's image, so with freedom and to be respected; but its tolerance seeks respectfully, and therefore peacefully, to correct what is false and wrong.

The conference process

With this background the members of the Jesmond Conference met to consider and consult over the Government's four British values but in the light of the Christian tradition and a concern for the truth regarding the issues involved. Since in the Christian tradition truth comes from Jesus Christ and his Apostles, through reading the Scriptures, the conference had two helpful Bible expositions by Ian Garrett, then four 20 minute papers from the vicar of Jesmond, on each of the Government's values. Conference members then contributed further analysis with short term and long term suggestions for action. The conference concluded with a Global view on the British situation from the Archbishop of Kenya's Officer for Anglican Communion Affairs, Charles Raven, and further discussion.

The consultation in Jesmond was seen simply as a beginning, and contributing to a new "national conversation" on British values in the light of the forth-coming General Election and the inevitable national debate after the General Election on Europe. The conference resolved, one, to request the Government to supplement its four British values with "the pursuit of truth" and "the Christian tradition" as vital to ensuring that the British liberal tradition is maintained, and, two, to continue, and promote, the "conversation" in their churches and in the world as they are able.

Postscript

The conference book, British Values and the National Church, is available from Amazon and the conference addresses will be available on Clayton.TV.

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