Moortown Baptist Church, 204 King Lane, Leeds LS17 6AA. Map Tel: (0113) 2693750 A member of the YBA. A registered charity No 1128960. Terms of use

All about a “P” word

16 February 2012

The recent High Court judgement on banning prayers in Bideford Town Council meetings has kicked up a storm.

I can’t help thinking that there are important issues here but not the ones that are making the headlines.

On the one hand the National Secular Society would have religion removed from public life; on the other hand some Christians would wish to keep a privileged place for religion in this Christian country. I think both are overstating the case. On the issue of prayers, lots of people are taking the “P” word out of context.

A good few years back following much campaigning I was involved in shaping local regeneration alongside churches, faith groups, residents’ organisations, politicians and the Council. On one occasion I was asked if I would like to be the Mayor’s Chaplain for a year. I replied that was the last thing I would want – I would rather influence the debates on the agenda rather than be boxed into the formalities before the debate started.

For me, prayers in a Council chamber are a red herring. I am not sure what such prayers mean for the mix of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist and agnostic councillors and council officers; I am not sure how we expect God to answer such prayers. For a credible Christian input, I would want Christians to take a view informed by faith on issues on the council agendas – to me this is much more important than the prayers before the meeting. I would assume that such a view which would be linked to campaigns and action would be informed by many prayers, bible study, discussion and planning.

It would seem that having such a campaigning or prophetic model is preferable to a priestly one that blesses our meetings as they begin.

Yet, if removing prayers from such meetings is a symbol of removing faith from public life then dangerous and denudes both society and faith. Surely, we must have a public and not a private faith.

However, I am not seeking privilege for faith here. Anyone’s personal values should affect their personal and public conduct. That applies to any philosophy, faith or belief. This is both a right and responsibility. So in having a public faith we should not claim a privileged position, rather as Christians we should participate alongside others in shaping our society.

It seems that our society suffers from a lack of credible world views to inform our public policies – so for want of an alternative we are left with consumerism and government by political utilitarians (those who move ambitiously through the party political classes) with very little fresh to offer. Equally those who would occupy the public sphere with an alternative soon slide away quietly for the lack of a practical plan. Never has there been a greater need for a public, practical and prophetic faith.

Such a servant role is core to the Gospels and dear to Baptists as a dissenting /non-conformist group. Those who say but this is a Christian country in the sense that it is built upon Christian values are right – remembering that some of these values and laws came by shared process and some by force. I acknowledge all this and argue that these principles are a gift Christianity has offered to this nation and not a debt to be paid. They are something to be cherished for what they are and not for the privilege they afford one group over another. The heart of Christianity is about good news, salvation and kingdom that is the reality, the means and sharing of life as God intended it for each person and creation as a whole.

I wonder whether the heat of the recent debate is generated by secularists who wish to isolate faith and Christians who are uncertain of their place in today’s society. Both shout loudly and make less sense than they first appear. In that sense they are taking the “P” word to heart for different reasons. As you may have noticed from this blog – I would like to take the “P” word in a different way.

Graham Brownlee
16 February 2012

Previous post:

Next post: