This issue starts printing on St Georges Day. A day when the Mayor of London will be taking part in celebrations of Englishness, when churches will be ringing bells across the country, when the Cross of St George may fly from civic buildings, and when others will even be reviving the demand for a public holiday (despite the fact that it falls in the section of the year already overburdened with an excess of public holidays).
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a saints day, though we would be much happier to see people in church and ringing the bells four weeks later on Ascension Day. But is it the best way to assert our English identity?
A national newspaper recently initiated a half-hearted attempt to have every church in England ringing their bells on St Georges Day. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the sound of church bells – change ringing is a peculiarly English art, and a more significant part of our national identity than most people realize. What made the self-styled campaign’ ineffectual and unpleasant was the subsequent attack upon the bishops.
The Bishop of Ripon apparently replied, T am not sure assertiveness is a Christian value,’ which is a little hard on church bells (and their ringers) but otherwise sound. That ‘only five bishops out of 44 want the bells to ring out on St Georges Day’ is an entirely predictable response to a cheap little publicity-seeking circular.
There is no need for aggression. The fact that atheists and secularists have, of late, been unusually bad-tempered and aggressive in their public campaigns against the Christian culture of this country is no reason for responding in kind. If you wish to show your support for that historic culture, go to church on Ascension Day.
We do have a responsibility to stand up for the Christian culture of this country, but we also have a vocation to do so responsibly. In one sense, we are those with the least to worry about. Whatever their other faults may be, just about every reader of New Directions is a faithful, thinking, church-going, orthodox Christian.
Secularism does not have much effect upon our lives. And if it is a bit of mild abuse and persecution we are considering, we already have some experience of this within our own church.
In many ways it is other people’s problem. One can hardly spend so much time, prayer and energy on seeking to save the Church of England from its self-destruction, on opposing the liberal revision of our national religious
heritage, or on teaching and re-teaching the core truths of the Catholic Faith, and not be aware that our English culture is solidly and irreducibly Christian.
This is our Anglican patrimony, and part of this inheritance is the responsibility to share that religious culture with all among whom we live. As members of the established church, we have a Gospel to proclaim, for the good of all, Christian and non-Christian alike. If others wish to desacralize the state, that is their concern.
In many ways, this would be an attractive option, for it would leave the church unencumbered, and free of such responsibility. But until this happens, we must continue to practise and to preach what Our Lord commanded. This is the foundation of our Englishness. The only way in which individuals may be free – truly free to think, say or do whatever they wish – is on this ancient foundation of Christian faith and practice.
The resignation of Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali is a serious blow to the Church of England. He has been an episcopal leader of great courage, orthodoxy and clarity, the very kind of bishop that our church so emphatically needs in a time of uncertainty, theological dispute and not a little cowardice.
Bishop Michael has shown great skill and judgement in fixing upon the key issues, while also being open to the full breadth of the tradition – as witnessed by his powerfully biblical and Catholic presentation of the Immaculate Conception [New Directions April 2007].
Bishop Michael has also been one of the few to teach and expound the explicit and irreducible link between British and Christian values.
Bishop Michael has spoken out courageously and unequivocally against the increasing march of multiculturalism, with its implicit encouragement for atheists and secularists, with its appeasement of Islamists, and with its relentless and increasing pressure upon explicit Christian behaviour and belief.
He is a brave man, a fine theologian, a respected commentator, and an orthodox bishop. We pray for him in his new work and wish him well, but whatever work he undertakes for the Lord, it will be a sad day for the Church of England when he retires from the See of Rochester and the House of Bishops, ten years earlier than he might have done.
We will all be the poorer for his departing.