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14. Forum Religionen in der Gesellschaft

Öffentlicher Vortrag und Diskussion in Zusammenarbeit mit dem studium universale

Being a religious minority: the status of Christianity
in contemporary Britain

Mark Chapman

Prof. Dr. Mark Chapman

Universität Oxford

Dienstag, 15. Dezember 2009
19:30 - 21:00 Uhr
Festsaal, Hauptgebäude der Universität Bonn
Am Hof 1, 53113 Bonn

This paper discusses theological implications for the English churches, particularly the Church of England, as they recognise their minority status. By analysing reports from the 1960s to the present (The Deployment and Payment of the Clergy (1964), Church and State (1970), Faith in the City (1985), Faithful Cities: A Call for Celebration, Vision and Justice (2006) on the Church’s response to changing urban and religious demography, I outline two alternative responses to religious decline. 

The first amounts to a nostalgic longing for a renegotiated establishment. This, I suggest, is based on a false premise: what is not questioned in any of the reports is whether there is a ‘common good’ or a national identity rooted in a latent Christianity. In a country where there are many different religions and a majority who are simply not religious at all (even if they are not necessarily hostile to religion) the inherited and unquestioned sense of right and wrong which characterised the ‘common good’ in the past is at the very least opened up to debate. Despite protests it may even be a redundant concept. As a minority, Christians – and members of other faiths – may well have an understanding of the ‘common good’ of all people which might be quite different from the ‘common good’ decided upon through the democratic process. The assumption, which underpinned so much of the Church of England’s thinking from its inception, that all people were really Christian, whether they liked it or not, is nothing more than a piece of wishful thinking. 

The second solution promotes a pluralism which emerges from the recognition of minority status. This model was advocated by a number of more radical writers and theologians including Valerie Pitt and Donald Mackinnon in the 1960s and 1970s. It has recently been revitalised by Rowan Williams (for instance, in his controversial 2008 lecture on ‘Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective’). On this model, becoming a minority is part of obedience to the Gospel: the early twenty-first century may be revealing the painful truth that it is simply wrong to believe that Christianity will be anything other than a minority religion. The roughness and complexity of Christian discipleship are hardly likely to appeal to the majority – even if in the long term the witness of such discipleship might have far-reaching effects. If that is the case, then becoming a minority religion might be the best thing to have happened to Christianity for a very long time.

Moderation: Prof. Dr. Wolfram Kinzig
Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät, Abt. für Kirchengeschichte, Universität Bonn, ZERG Vorstand