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As if by magic, another Bishop popped up at the weekend talking about immigration in the context of the debate about whether we should refer to Britain as a “Christian country.” It follows BNP leader Nick Griffin’s struggle on Question Time to define what he meant by “indigenous Britain”. Griffin seemed to define it in religious terms, referring three times to Britain being a “Christian Country.”
Former Archbishop Lord Carey waded into the debate with comments in the News of the World urging a cap on migration. Less covered were comments by Bishop Jonathan Gledhill, who issued a press release about his latest pastoral letter. In it he says that perhaps Christians should wear their crosses more in the run up to Christmas to assert their faith, as (usually false) allegations appear about Local Authorities ‘banning Christmas’ to cater for the sensitivities of some ethnic minorities. This for the bishop is about claiming back Christian identity which he feels is being eroded.
The key line though could easily be missed. He writes: “Ethnic minorities are far more anxious about the rampant secularism and commercialism that erodes all Christian standards than they are about their host country properly celebrating its Christian foundations.”
Note the use of the phrase “host country”. This is dangerous, because the implication appears to be that ethnic minorities, even second or third generation, are being “hosted” in Britain. They appear to have a different status to full British citizens. It comes worryingly close to Griffin’s argument about “indigenous Britains”.
Jonathan Gledhill is clearly not a racist. I am sure would seek to defend the rights of migrants and refugees. But his argument, like some other church leaders, is not a million miles away in language, and in implication, from that which some members of the BNP are advancing. Both equate religion with national identity. Both seem to feel that there is an (indigenous) “Britishness” which can be defined in religious terms. And both seem to feel that this identity should be asserted in the face of migration. It is interesting too that the implicit assumption when you read his full letter is that ethnic minorities are also not Christian.
George Carey, writing in the News of the World on Sunday blamed the Government for not ensuring that migrants were “absorbed” into Britain. He attacked multiculturalism. And here I think lies the problem which some church leaders are grappling with. When migrants come to Britain, they don’t want them to influence and change (contribute to) the culture – at least not if it changes Britain’s “Christian identity”. They want them to be assimilated. Migrants must accept the identity of ‘Christian Britain’.
The uncomfortable question that such church leaders need to answer is if migrants don’t accept the identity of “Christian Britain”, can such people be fully ‘British’? The language and arguments that some church leaders are advancing would suggest that they believe that they can’t.
You can read Jonathan Gledhill’s press release and pastoral letter in full here: http://www.lichfield.anglican.org/news&newsID=655Tweet