In October, a survey by the Church of England and other British Christian groups found that four out of 10 British adults were not certain Jesus Christ was a real person who had lived, let alone the son of God. Those findings alarmed senior church officials, who reportedly advised congregants that trying to convert disinterested Brits might just be “counterproductive.”
Now, the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life has concluded that the British government must adjust its political system to recognize that Christianity is no longer the country’s majority religion. Roughly two-fifths of Brits self-identify as Christian, and many are opting for evangelical denominations over the traditional Anglican church.
The commission — convened by the academic Woolf Institute, made up of a group of senior religious leaders, and chaired by former senior judge Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss — released a report Monday claiming that roughly half of U.K. citizens do not follow a specific religion, compared to the two-thirds who identified as Christian in 1983. Additionally, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism have surpassed Judaism in popularity.
These findings, the report claims, prove the evolving religious landscape in Britain calls for dramatic changes to the way Christianity influences public life.
Currently, 26 bishops from the Church of England serve in the House of Lords, and Monday’s report argued that number should be dramatically reduced to make room for non-Christian religious leaders, including imams and rabbis.
That suggestion didn’t go over so well with the church, which is headed by the monarchy.
“The report is dominated by the old-fashioned view that traditional religion is declining in importance and that non-adherence to a religion is the same as humanism or secularism,” a Church of England spokeswoman said Monday.
That was far from the report’s only controversial recommendation: It also suggested eliminating laws that require schools to hold collective worship and reforming school syllabi that “portray religions only in a good light.”
“They tend to omit the role of religions in reinforcing stereotypes and prejudice around issues such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race,” the report said.
The commission’s findings demonstrate a decades-long shift in British perceptions of religion. In the United States, where Christianity is still widely viewed by voters on both sides of the aisle as proof of honesty and integrity in a candidate, British politicians have become more cautious about exposing their religious views. In 2003, a senior advisor interrupted then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair to prevent him from discussing his faith in detail with a magazine reporter. “We don’t do God,” the advisor, Alastair Campbell, reportedly said.
Blair’s team of confidantes also reportedly advised him against using “God bless you” in a speech about the Iraq War.
Perhaps Monday’s most controversial suggestion, however, was not that the government formally de-Christianize the U.K. but that it should encourage free speech — even for radical religious views. As fears of radicalization and homegrown terrorism grow across Europe, the commission suggested that in many instances, freedom of speech should be expanded instead of limited.
The report said officials “should engage with a wide range of affected groups, including those with which it disagrees … and should lead public opinion by challenging negative stereotyping and by speaking out in support of groups that may otherwise feel vulnerable and excluded.”
On Saturday, a knife-wielding man slit one man’s throat and injured others in a London subway station, screaming, “This is for Syria.” The attack came days after Parliament approved British airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria.
London police are treating the subway attack as a terrorist incident, but at least one passerby didn’t seem to think it was indicative of religious extremism. “You’re not even a Muslim, bruv!” he reportedly yelled. “You’re an embarrassment.”
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