EIGHT hundred years ago this month, Pope Innocent III issued the
charter that launched the Fifth Crusade. This catastrophic attempt
to deliver Jerusalem into Christian hands brought about the
slaughter of thousands of people - as many died of disease or
drowning as they did by the sword. It ended when the Egyptian
Sultan Al-Kamil agreed to surrender a piece of the True Cross to
the Pope. The terms of this peace treaty were never met because he
did not, in fact, have one.
The Christian Church in England today is not characterised by
violence against its opponents, thank God. It does have strident
moments when Christians wave placards, or sign petitions against
organisations that they think are not cruel enough towards women,
or gays, or whatever. That is undeniably depressing. But murderous
Christians in this country are exceptionally rare. What has gone
Enlightenment happened. This 18th-century philosophical movement
changed the way we examine our concepts of truth, right, and wrong.
Progress was driven by raw, logical thought. It was fired not by
supernatural beliefs, but by science, analysis, and the pursuit of
good for every member of society. Whether or not we realise it, our
world-view has been forged by bringing this rational, humanist
thinking to the Christian faith. It civilised the Church of
England. It made us what we are.
Nineteenth-century England had a revolution. Unlike other
European revolutions, it did not involve violence. Rather, we built
sewers, reformed prisons, created a network of railways, made child
labour illegal, founded art galleries, and eradicated smallpox.
Each of these social reforms was driven by Christian men and women
who were doing it because the way of Jesus had taken hold of their
lives. They did not make much of it. They were wishy-washy
Christians. But they brought healing, compassion, justice, and the
casting out of demons - the signs by which Jesus said that people
would recognise the Kingdom of God.
I am a fervent believer in wishy-washy Christianity. Strident
Christianity brought us the Crusades; wishy-washy Christianity
brought us the Welfare State, the Jubilee debt campaign, and a
justice system in which politically inconvenient people are not
left to rot, forgotten, in prison.
Being a wishy-washy Christian is hard work. It means committing
yourself to things in the life of the neighbourhood which you would
rather not do, often unthanked. It means that you vote (even though
you would rather not engage with the leaflets that tumble through
your letterbox). It means that you visit the lonely (even though
your time is the commodity you can least spare). It means that you
join Parent Teacher Associations, unions, and the Neighbourhood
Watch (even though they involve the most boring meetings known to
It means that you extend hospitality to people you would not
usually invite into your home (even though you would prefer not to
have your sofa smell of wee). And, most challenging of all, it
means that you befriend your neighbours (even if they are not
I absolutely love England. It is unfashionable to say that. It
is even more unfashionable to say that I love the Church of England
- this broad, tolerant, agonising, welcoming, civilised, prayerful
Church that has been central to making this a good country in which
to live. I do not want to go anywhere else. I want to be here; and
I want the deep love that I feel for Jesus, the founder of our
religion, to inspire me to make this land a better place.
Peter Graystone develops pioneer mission projects for the