There is no such thing as a Christian Country.
‘We are a Christian Country…’, ‘Last time I checked we were a Christian Country…’, ‘That should not be happening, we are a Christian Country…’.
These are statements I hear often, nearly always from the right-wing press or people with right-wing political leanings. For me the issue is that I do not believe you can have a ‘Christian Country’, for precisely the same reason we don’t have one church. The truth of the matter is that we simply do not agree with one another. Now of course I believe in the ‘Holy universal (catholic) and apostolic church’ – as the creed puts it – but we have so many expressions of this body because we can not agree on how this should be done.
A ‘Christian Country’ insinuates that one knows what it means to be Christian or what a Christian believes in or should do. However it is not that simple. For as many political beliefs that there are, there are just as many, if not more, expressions of church life. Some of the things that are done in the name of God/the Church make my skin crawl, in the same way that things I preach and write (probably including this) may make some Christians say I am a heretic. That people are segregated from parts of the church based on martial status, gender, sexuality, age or ethnicity makes me angry - in the same way they make me angry when these things also happen in society. That people picket funerals with placards saying ‘Burn in Hell’ and ‘God hates Fags’ and call themselves 'church' makes me burn deeply with anger. I disagree with my Catholic brothers and sisters on the Mass and the place of Mary and Saints. I disagree with my Anglican brothers and Sisters on their establishment as a ‘state’ church. I disagree with my Pentecostal brothers and sisters about the prevalence of certain gifts of the Spirit. I disagree with my reformed brothers and sisters on the role of women in the leadership of the church. And I am sure my brothers and sisters would disagree with me on these and many more issues.
It is this fact that makes me question the premise of being a Christian Country. Indeed what does that mean? We hold to Christian principles? Is it that we have a state church? Is it that we have historically been a churched nation? – Because that is not the case any more. If it is the first one, that we hold to Christian principles – what exactly are ‘Christian Principles?’ ‘Love you neighbour as yourself’? ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’? ‘Sell everything you have and give it to the poor’? Bit harder that principle.
My observation is that the phrase ‘We are a Christian Country’ is a phrase often used by sections of the right who may go to church at Christmas and for funerals but like to hide behind this statement to cover xenophobic and racist views. They will use it to spout that other shouldn’t be able to practice their religion or culture, by, for example, wearing the hijab. They will use it to say that we should not allow different religions to be taught in schools. They will use it to say that we should only allow Christian refugees into the country, the same Christian refugees who may come from churches, which says we should imprison gay people or women should not be allowed to speak.
As the early Baptist Pioneer, Thomas Helwys, in A Short Mistery of Iniquity (1612), puts is:
'...for men's religion to God is betwixt God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it, neither may the King judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.'
Views, although they may be called ‘Christian’, are always views, which we come to by reading the Bible through the cultural lens in which we live – for we can do nothing else. I am a university educated, white, British, left wing male – my reading of the Bible and what I think God is saying will be influenced heavily by these things. In the same way a 14 yr. old, Palestinian girl, will read the same thing I read in the Bible and believe it to say something completely different.
For me, there is no such thing as a ‘Christian Country’ – mainly because, who decides what is ‘Christian’?