At such a time as this, what should Christian people be doing who are members of a national church like the Church of England, and in particular, what should their leaders be doing - in the West, and so for us in Europe and the UK?
Having had the privilege of a sabbatical over recent months, I have been able to visit a good number of different churches and meet Christian people in England, Scotland and the United States of America. I have also had the opportunity of meeting church leaders from around the wider world through my involvement in Anglican International Development (AID) and other networks. In addition I have had a greater opportunity for reading and study. From these meetings and this study it is clear that the Western world, and especially Europe, is at a critical point in its history. Unless facts are faced and there is change, the future, I believe, could be very dark. So what is needed is for the light of Christ to be shining brightly in the West and in Europe once again.
The Death of Europe?
In an article in 2009, entitled While Europe Slept, Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Christian political philosopher, was commenting on Europe's reluctance to have God in its constitution or a reference to its Christian heritage. But at the same time it was willing to refer to the heritage of Greece and Rome along with the secular European Enlightenment. These were her words:
"If Europe abandons her religious heritage, the idea of Europe dies. And Europe has abandoned, or forgotten, her religious heritage. Europe is now 'post-Christian'. What does this mean? What does it portend? If a culture forgets what it is, as I believe Europe has done, it falls first into an agnostic shrugging of the shoulders, unable to say exactly what it is and believes, and from there it will inevitably fall into nihilism. Detached from its religious foundations, Europe will not remain agnostic. The first result is manifest in those ideologies of multiculturalism that make 'difference' a kind of sacred, absolute principle, although no principle is considered to have any such status. Difference tells us nothing in and of itself. Some ways of life and ways of being in the world are brutal, stupid, and ugly. Some a human rights-oriented culture cannot tolerate … A culture must believe in its own enculturating responsibility and mission in order to make claims of value and to institutionalise them in social and political forms. This a post-Christian Europe cannot do" (italics mine).
The European Elections
But is all lost? The European elections, earlier in the summer, provided a glimmer of hope. The results around Europe were evidence that significant numbers are not happy with current politics in the West. Certainly some want someone, somewhere, to address the moral and spiritual confusion that currently marks secular Western politics. Also what is wanted is for Europe's problems to be properly and openly faced and discussed publicly and fairly. They do not want these problems ignored, fudged or evaded by the use of politically correct meaningless jargon as too often happens. In those European elections in the UK, the surprising victories of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) gave rise to some serious soul searching. So what was the response?
The reaction on the BBC Today programme, the morning following the elections, was interesting. First, there was Chuka Umunna, the Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Businness, Innovation and Skills. He said the problem UKIP was highlighting was the "economic and political system". This needed to be addressed. But he added that fundamental values must not be traded away – the values of "tolerance and mutual respect". Then came David Cameron, the Tory Prime Minister. He said that these UKIP polling victories were due to people's "disillusionment with Europe". For they wanted "change". They wanted to return power to member states. He argued that UKIP was simply a "free hit". It was just "sending a message" on Europe. So he would ensure, if re-elected for a second term, a Referendum for 2017 "after [European] renegotiation".
What, however, was absent from all the discussion about those elections, that I heard (or read), was any mention of moral or spiritual issues. Yet these are so fundamental to any society. Without the moral or spiritual dimension, and the traditional Christian understanding of public life, any new "economic and political system" of Chuka Umunna or David Cameron's seeking to return power to member states will lead to further disillusionment.
"Change", of course, is necessary, as are "tolerance" and "mutual respect". But most certainly they are not sufficient for social cohesion or to ground economics or politics. "Tolerance", unless defined in terms of what is to be tolerated, is vacuous and meaningless. By definition, you can only tolerate what you think is wrong. Tolerance presupposes a moral order. Similarly "respect" tells you nothing. Yes, respect should be paid to every human being. But how individual respected human beings should then be honoured, esteemed or evaluated is a very different matter. Sadly a post-Christian world does not know the answer to that. It is not equipped to make those assessments, having turned its back on such God-ordained standards as the Ten Commandments, Christ's Sermon on the Mount and other ethics and virtues of the mainstream biblical Christian tradition. Furthermore, modern non-defined tolerance makes such esteeming, honouring or evaluation of other individuals illegitimate. But judgments are having to be made and UKIP, whatever one thinks of the party, has given these judgments publicity.
"The Fourth Revolution"
Some judgments appear in the recent book by John Micklethwaite (the Editor-in-Chief of The Economist) and Adrian Wooldridge (its Management Editor). It is entitled The Fourth Revolution, with the subtitle being "the global race to reinvent the state." Its argument is that there have been three significant political revolutions for the Western world. The first led to the creation of the nation-state in the 17th century when "European governments embraced the idea of rule based on law rather than on whim [of Kings]: 'non sub homine sed sub Deo et lege' [not under man but under God and the law]." The second revolution led to the creation of the liberal state and modern democracy in the 19th century. The third led to the creation of the modern welfare state in the 20th century.
But, the authors argue, modern failures of liberal democratic and welfare states require a new fourth revolution. This would come about, on the one hand, by "reviving the spirit of liberty by putting more emphasis on individual rights and less on social rights." On the other hand, it would come about by "reviving the spirit of democracy by lightening the burden of the state" – that is to say, by having limited government.
Micklethwaite and Wooldridge believe that "the great problem of the West is not just that it has overloaded the state with obligations it cannot meet; it has overburdened democracy with expectations that cannot be fulfilled." They agree with the truth of Plato's two great criticisms of democracy "that voters would put short-term satisfaction above long-term prudence and that politicians would try to bribe their way to power – as they have done by promising entitlements that future generations will have to pay for. A narrower state, especially one that constrained itself by self-denying ordinances, would be a more sustainable one."
The Moral and Spiritual Order
But how do people become "self-denying", when "the self" has become a primary value in the West? The State cannot force anyone to be "self-denying", if liberty is still prized. Three things are to be remembered regarding what "the State" can or should do. First, "the state" is to be seen as the nation organized for the protection and good ordering of the life of its citizens and the one institution entitled to use force. Secondly, as P T Forsyth once said: "The State does not exist to make men good, the Church does. The State exists to secure the conditions of goodness, the Church to create the thing itself." People need the forgiveness and power of Christ to be good. And, thirdly, it was Gladstone, the 19th century Prime Minister, who said: "[the State] is moral, and not merely economical, inasmuch as its laws and institutions, and the acts done under them, are intimately connected with the formation of our moral habits, our modes of thought, and the state of our affections."
Indeed, the Christian believes that the State is as much God's creation as the Church. That is what the Bible (Romans 13.1ff) clearly teaches; and that is why the nation-state needs to be pictured as a three-legged stool with the legs being, one, the political order; two, the economic order; but, three (and vitally), the God-given moral and spiritual order. If one leg is missing or broken, the stool cannot stand up. All are necessary. Certainly without this moral and spiritual order nationally there will be considerable disarray – witness what is happening to the nations of the European Union. So it is unfortunate that for all the wisdom in The Fourth Revolution this moral and spiritual dimension is lacking.
The Loss of the Moral and Spiritual Order
The loss of the Christian faith and ethics in current political debate affects the survival chances of the European Enlightenment values of liberty, equality and fraternity, with their fruit being modern liberal democracy and the welfare state. So many still cherish those values and that democracy. But they require a theistic grounding - a belief in God - to survive. For liberty is rooted in God's freedom and his allowing us freely to reject him; equality comes from all equally being created in his image; and fraternity from all being by creation children (and a brotherhood) of one heavenly Father.
Similarly modern liberal democratic traditions and a viable welfare state will only survive where you have a Christian culture as the spiritual canopy and with strong Christian communities. Certainly modern democracies become illiberal without it – witness the so called "Arab Spring" where, for example, in Egypt democracy brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, but then the newly elected majority led to greater repression of significant minorities, not least Christian minorities.
But the public crisis we are all facing is not just related to the general shape of our political life and the need "to reinvent the State" and to make it more fit for purpose. There are specific problems that must be addressed; and the supreme problem for the West currently is "the family".
Liberty and democracy demand strong families – with the norm being a married family of a father and mother producing and then caring for, and being responsible for, their children. The reason for this need is that for human flourishing the nation-state requires mediating structures between the individual and the State and other large institutions of public life (such as great businesses). And the primary mediating structure is the family. Besides the human family other mediating structures, of course, include the Church – the family or household of God. These and other mediating structures are absolutely vital for a liberal society. To quote Peter Berger and Richard Neuhaus from their classic study, To Empower the People with the subtitle "the role of mediating structures in public policy":
"without institutionally reliable processes of mediation, the political order becomes detached from the values and realities of individual life. Deprived of its moral foundation, the political order is 'delegitimated'. When that happens, the political order must be secured by coercion rather then by consent. And when that happens, democracy disappears. The attractiveness of totalitarianism – whether instituted under left-wing or right-wing banners – is that it overcomes the dichotomy of private and public existence by imposing on life one comprehensive meaning."
So as the family and the church disintegrate or are progressively destroyed, unintentionally or intentionally, the State takes on more and more power. It embraces and regulates more and more of our social and individual lives. When the State does that and it takes over more and more of the family's and the church's roles, it becomes increasingly totalitarian and eventually employs the illiberal horrors that sinful men and women in power can devise.
European Demographic Decline
Thank God, Europe is at present spared those horrors. But the State in Europe is becoming totalitarian. Scotland's Children and Young People (Scotland) Act now empowers the State to appoint a "named person" for every child, other than its parents, to act as its guardian from birth to the age of 18. The sociologist, Dr Furedi, calls this Act, smuggled in on the grounds of family disintegration, "grotesque".
However, in Europe as a whole the family is not only disintegrating but also failing to reproduce itself. This generates a very great challenge. For the current average fertility rate of all European women is the lowest in the world at 1.6 children per woman (with 2.1 being the replacement level). So, unless there is change, we should expect that in our grandchildren's time many Europeans will want, and possibly achieve, an Islamic European establishment of Sharia law. This is because Europe needs over 1 million immigrants every year due to its population decline. In the UK (with a better fertility rate but still not at replacement level) according to the UK Office for Budget Responsibility we need over a quarter of a million immigrants each year over the next 50 years to keep debt (as a proportion of GDP) at its current level. But many of these immigrants are likely to come from predominantly poorer countries near to Europe, namely from North Africa and the Middle East which are predominantly Muslim countries. Not to allow such immigrants, when the population is declining, is economically suicidal. This is not so obvious initially. That is because such population decline through falling fertility takes time to be experienced. It comes once demographic momentum ceases - that is when the oldest generation with replacement levels of fertility dies off. Until that happens there is an illusion of well-being with the population still increasing until that transition. But even before that moment you have serious problems when elderly populations "bulge" and these elderly populations need to be supported by fewer and fewer younger people. Modern science in modern Europe can achieve some alleviation by robotics. It cannot, however, produce to order, in the laboratory, a 30-50 year old economically productive human individual.
So what should Christian people be doing who are members of a national church like the Church of England, and in particular, what should their leaders be doing at such a time as this?
In 1984 Raymond Johnston, a former church-warden of Jesmond Parish Church, was able to publish a little book entitled The Functions of a National Church. It was the republication of three Advent Lectures delivered in Westminster Abbey in 1963 by Canon Max Warren and with a full introduction by Raymond Johnston himself. That introduction concluded with these words:
"Our immediate task as Anglicans is to address ourselves humbly but confidently to the tasks of a national church. We shall pray for the city, as Jeremiah urged (Jer 29.7). We shall preach repentance, both individual and corporate, recalling the ministry of John the Baptist, Jonah, and One greater than either of them. We shall urge both rulers and ruled that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
The reproduced lectures that follow suggested that the duty of a national church towards the State is that it should be doing three other "P's" besides Praying and Preaching. They are Prophesying, Purifying and Preparing.
Prophesying and Purifying
Prophesying involves so much. It certainly involves following the Old Testament prophets and challenging those in authority (and those under authority) when they act defiantly of God's clear will. And Max Warren encourages us to be vigilant in this respect over all matters dealing with education. But he emphasizes that prophesying should not just mean challenging abuses of power and making statements in times of crisis. It also should mean helping the State, if we are able, resolve any social problems in the light of the Bible's teaching. And he quotes Alec Vidler:
"A church to be worthy of the name however small a minority it may be in any given society, is charged with the responsibility of bearing testimony to God's will before Kings and rulers and the whole people. It must declare man's civic duties as well as his ecclesiastical duties. It must teach the law of God, as well as preach the gospel of God. It must denounce injustice and sin seeing wherever they are to be found, and call upon all men to repent and return unto the Lord their God by obeying his Law in their common life."
Purifying also involves so much. We today can see it certainly means being champions for sexual purity against the drift of the sexualized West, and not least the homosexualized West, and advocating heterosexual lifelong marriage and the fruitfulness of that relationship. We can also see there is need of a process of "purifying" in the electronic media. But Max Warren argues that it will also mean ensuring that the Church and the State act as God intended. As P T Forsyth puts it: "Both [Church and State] are divine agents for human perfection. But the one by way of law and its evolution, the other by way of conscience and its redemption … The state is an agent of the Kingdom of God, the Church is the Kingdom in the making." We must be teaching as Jesus taught, that we should "render to Caesar the things that are Ceasar's, and to God the things that are God's." So we must see that the State's role is honoured but not when it orders what God forbids or forbids what God orders. And that is why now we need a much "narrower" State. As Lord Beveridge, the architect of the Welfare State, wrote: "The state is or can be master of money, but in a free society it is master of very little else. The making of a good society depends not on the State but on the citizens acting individually or in free association with one another."
Finally, Preparing involves preparing people for the four last things, of death, judgment, heaven and hell (subjects many clergy avoid but which secularists want to discuss, witness the inception of "Death Cafés" for talking about death).
However, Max Warren said in 1963 "preparing" involves helping the nation adjust to "the rapidly changing world situation". That is true today when secularism has blinded people to Christian ethics and extremist Muslims interpret a Koranic command for execution and crucifixion literally. So with an increasing Muslim presence in Europe we need to make clear how the Bible and common sense show that Muslims are right over their rejection of Western sexual decadence, but those who respond with violence are very wrong. Then Western States need to learn from the historic Christian liberal tradition following the 17th century civil wars. That is where the State grants freedom to to religion and philosophy including, of course, the freedom to change your beliefs; but it outlaws violence, sedition and sexual immorality.