Are Britain’s laws “Christian”?
The question “is Britain a Christian country?” has been in the news recently. Clearly not if it’s judged by how many people go to church. In the 2011 Census 59 percent of people in England and Wales described themselves as “Christian” (dropping to just under half of those aged 15 to 40). But perhaps the more important question is how far the British legal system is based on “Christian” principles- making it a place which offers security, dignity and safety to everyone. (And do current arguments about asylum seekers risk undermining that?).
Perhaps we have to recognise that some Christian principles are embedded in British law, but not all (for example that the “kingdom belongs to the poor”). And we perhaps need a better understanding of how legal systems coming from other faiths (eg Sharia and Beth Din) can operate effectively under the UK legal system.
How far can the “Christian” understanding of forgiveness operate in society? Is there a time when, for the sake of future peace, it is important to draw a line under past atrocities and crimes? (the accusations against Gerry Adams have raised this question again) Must justice always be done, or is a process of truth and reconciliation (forgiveness is possible without punishment, provided the truth is told) a better way?
Is the Biblical understanding of justice that there must always be punishment for wrong-doing? (so that in some Christian versions of the Atonement forgiveness only becomes possible because the punishment for all human sin has been meted out to Jesus) Or does “justice” in the Bible mean not “paying people what they deserve”, but “taking action to put things right”? (so that “atonement” is better understood as God’s action in challenging and breaking the power of evil over the life of humanity)
Faiths which possess scriptures also develop traditions of interpretation (an example is the Jewish Talmud), which can be as important and authoritative as the original scriptures. Sometimes these traditions of interpretation can radically alter the sense of the original scriptures: eg “the world to come” is usually understood in Christian churches to mean “life after death”, but in the New Testament it almost certainly means a transformation of the whole of life.
Did Jesus see his ministry as being for the Jewish people only- eg Matthew 15:24: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”? Is therefore the expansion of Christianity (as a “new religion”) to the Gentiles an innovation developed by Paul and some of the early Christians? But the Gospel of Luke describes Jesus preaching in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:25 to 28) at the beginning of his ministry and emphasising the place of foreigners in God’s purposes (which enrages the congregation). Is Luke re-writing of history, because he was Paul’s companion? Or is the “mission” to the Gentiles a genuine part of the teaching of Jesus (seen as fulfilling eg Isaiah 49:6 and Zechariah 8:23)? So that his “mission” to the Jewish people is only the first step in a world-wide task.
We also looked at copies of the bulletin of the National Health Action Party.