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Leader: ‘Less Christian’

10 April 2015

WHEN considering the Church, the simple narratives seldom work. According to a ComRes poll commissioned by Christian Concern, 75 per cent of the Christians polled believe that Britain has become "less Christian" in the past five years, i.e. under the Conservative-led Coalition. On such a showing, most other special-interest groups would be looking for a change in government. Not so the Anglicans, at least: in the breakdown of voting intentions, commissioned from YouGov by the Church Times, nearly half of those questioned planned to vote Conservative. After its flirtation with New Labour and the Lib-Dems, the Church seems to be living up to its old reputation as the Tory Party at prayer.

Where polls are concerned, of course, it does not pay to make too many assumptions. The YouGov poll makes no distinction between frequent churchgoers and nominal Anglicans, those who classify themselves as part of the C of E tribe without feeling the need to engage further with its ceremonies or, more pertinently, the radical nature of its scriptures. Similarly, the ComRes poll does not ask its respondents to define what "Christian" means in this context. Also, the framing of the question contained a potential confusion. Respondents were given a choice of two statements: "Britain has become less/hasn't become less of a Christian country over the past five years," making things unclear for any who wanted to answer that Britain's character was about the same.

Other results in the ComRes poll suggest a level of either confusion or sophistication that Christian Concern, a conservative pressure-group, chose not to highlight. Eighty per cent felt that the wearing of crosses in the workplace should be protected by law, but 11 per cent did not; 77 per cent thought it wrong to threaten health-care workers with the sack for offering to pray for patients, but seven per cent did not; 63 per cent thought that Christians should be able to refuse to act against their conscience without being penalised by employers, but 16 per cent did not. There is, then, a statistically significant disagreement among Christians about what the poll deems to be touchstones of a modern Christian country.

Another definition of a Christian country rests on the number of Christians within it. New fears of a growing Muslim population echo those of the early 19th century, when differing birth rates meant that the country was expected to be taken over by Roman Catholics within a generation or two, to its obvious ruination. But if hospitality to strangers and the care of minorities and the disadvantaged remain part of this country's nature, then such fears will evaporate. Both of these virtues are practised by the devout of all the main faiths, and by many of those who follow none. Labels might drop away, then, but there are grounds for optimism about the UK's "Christian" character.

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