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
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.