The Death of Christian Britain and The End of Church and State?


“Christian Britain died in 1963”. So wrote the historian Calum Brown. He doesn’t say on what date of what month, exactly but he quotes Philip Larkin’s famous verse as a reference point.

“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three .
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.”

‘Sexual intercourse’ has been around a bit longer than since 1963, but that may roughly be when it became a recreation and signified a radical change in our culture.

It wasn’t just the hunger for ‘free love’ as it became described; other factors affected faith,- like the horror of the two world wars; as if it was somehow God’s fault that having given us free will, we exercised it to slaughter each other in unimaginable numbers.

Not that the love was exactly free either. There has been a cost to our recreational free love. We live in what has been called ‘the age of disposable dads’. More teenage boys now have mobile phones (62%) than live with their dads. (57%).

The cost of broken families in the UK was estimated at £50 Billion. 48% per cent of children aged five and under in the poorest 20 per cent of families are now from broken homes.

A few more numbers tell a bit more truth about the cost. More children are born to unmarried than married parents now. Of the unmarried, half of all cohabiting couples will break up within a year of moving in together. 47% do not live with both natural parents by the time the child is 15. 90% of unmarried couples will break up by their childrens’ teens.

The love was not as free as we thought.

But the rejection of Christianity by our culture wasn’t just the choice of rock and roll, drugs, sex and indulgence over a moral framework that protected our families and children. We chose other things too. Brown commented:

“The generation that grew up in the sixties was more dissimilar to its parents than in any previous century. A moral metamorphosis…..the decline of marriage, the rise of divorce and remarriage, the rise of cohabitation … decreasing stigmatisation of illegitimacy, homosexuality and sexual licence, the growing recourse to birth control and abortion, and the irresistible social pressures for government liberalisation of restrictions on drinking, Sunday closing and recreation.”

Of all these, I think one of the most serious was the choice of the state to break the bond between children and marriage, and legislate for same-sex marriage. Of course it was a choice that any society has the freedom to take, but it was the final repudiation of the Christian culture that defined our civilisation. As Brown says, what took over one and a half thousand years to build and grow, we tore down in forty years.

So when I listened to the retiring Dean of Jersey make a case in an exit interview to continue the practice of the Anglican Dean sitting in the legislature by right of office, I wondered if he had missed the scale of this change. He reflected:

“I do think that Christian faith has been the basis of the island’s law and culture,

and therefore to have that faith, and I never speak narrowly as an Anglican, it’s always on the basis of other Christians and frankly what I understand to be the Muslim and Jewish position on matters that are before us.”

Today, in Jersey only 1300 people out of a population of 103,000 on the island of Jersey choose to identify as Anglican Christians. An Anglican Dean may want to speak of behalf Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews in a legislature, but on matters as varied as homosexuality, marriage, abortion, alcohol, FGM, there is no global ‘inter-religious’ position;- he doesn’t, shouldn’t and can’t.

What began as a trickle has become a flood. The flood has carried away the Christian vision of a God who gave us both law and love, intertwined. We like love on our terms and we don’t like laws that interfere with our indulgences. Like the wars we have fought, this flood was an exercise of human freedom. But as society atomises and breaks down, the cost in terms simply of morals, money and mental stability may be more than our freedom can easily afford. A Dean in the heart of the legislature presiding over this cultural revolution suggests that nothing has changed and all is well. But it has all changed, and it is not well.

Faced with the deepening incompatibilities between secular political ambitions and the Christian vision, it would be more honourable for the Church to withdraw from this symbolic but now outdated position. Better to do it before the secularists rightly demand it on principle, and return when Christians have recaptured their neighbours’ hearts and minds with the love and ethics of Christ, as they once did.