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Is Britain still a “Christian” society? Modern demographics indicate that this once-great Western nation may be adrift on a tide of moral and religious apathy.
The United Kingdom has all the trappings of having once been a great Protestant realm. Its Church of England, also known as the Anglican Communion, dates back to Reformation times. Established in 1534, its position as the official state church gives it powerful and exclusive privileges in British society. It has church buildings galore, 42 cathedrals, and thousands of schools across the UK.
When Britain was an empire, it spread Anglican belief and practice around the world, built upon the venerable Bible translation commissioned by King James I in 1611. Today, the Mother of Parliaments in London begins each day with Anglican prayers, and there are 26 seats in the House of Lords reserved for Anglican bishops who play a legislative role in Parliament.
The monarch has enormous influence as head of the Anglican Communion, head of state, and head of the Commonwealth. Things were very different back in 1953 when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned; Britain has changed immeasurably since then and a constitutional crisis is brewing, which Charles III, who will be crowned on the sixth of May, will have to deal with.
And that’s the point of this article: Britain is going through a profound identity crisis as to its Christian status. Pressure is building to separate church from state. King Charles has been forced to promise that he will protect the status of the Anglican Communion over his country (only 15 percent Anglican), while toying with the idea of presenting himself as “defender of all faiths.”
The latest results from the 2021 National Census for England and Wales add fuel to the sense of developing crisis. Let’s look at the data and ask what it shows about British attitudes towards religion. It boils down to a simple question: Is Britain a Christian nation or not? This most basic of questions is climbing its way up the national agenda.
The census takes place every ten years, so 2011 was the previous yardstick for comparison. Among the various questions that the census addressed was one concerning religious affiliation. The question asked which religion a person most identified with. People were not asked about their beliefs or active religious practice, and while they could choose to be identified as “Christian,” space was provided under “any other religion” to write in a more specific response. Failing all else, a person could choose “no religion.”
The question was voluntary, and 94 percent (56 million) of people living in England and Wales responded to it. In first place and for the first time, less than half the population (46.2 percent, 27.5 million people) described themselves as “Christian.” The second most common response was “no religion,” increasing by 12 percent to 37.2 percent (22.2 million). Every major religion advanced except for Christianity.
In plain English, these figures reveal a watershed moment when those who self-identify as “Christian” are now a minority of the population. When the 2001 census results are factored in, they show that over a 20-year period, those considering themselves “Christian” declined from 37.3 million (71.7 percent) to 27.5 million (46.2 percent). Those who said they have “no religion” tripled from 7.7 million (14.8 percent) to 22.2 million (37.2 percent). If the current rate of change is maintained, it is likely that by the time of the next census in 2031, those with “no religion” will rank as the new majority of the country.
The British media were quick to comment on this trend when the figures were released. Trevor Phillips, a British broadcaster, writer, and former politician, writing in the London Times, analysed the data and declared that those abandoning the faith were “the godless natives, especially the white and highly educated” who were “shedding the beliefs of their parents as so much superstitious gobbledygook” (“Godless liberals don’t have all the answers,” December 6, 2022).
Phillips noted that “the British enthusiasm for religious worship is tepid,” as “fewer than one in 30 of those who claim to be Christians turn up on Sunday.” He quoted the Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, who describes himself as “a practising Christian but not a believing one.” There would appear to be many like him, contributing to the mischievous description of the Anglican Communion in England as “the Tory Party at prayer.”
The secular magazine Prospect had harsh words for the Church of England, which it sees as dying, in denial, and “already drowning in its own irrelevance” (“With the Church of England dying, how much longer can we justify having bishops in the House of Lords?,” ProspectMagazine.co.uk, October 6, 2022).
The conclusion is very clear: The Anglican Communion, mainstay of Britain’s national identity for more than 500 years, is dying as the nation continues to turn increasingly away from all religion towards a secular future. And Britain is not alone. These trends are being duplicated around the globe.
So, is Britain a Christian nation? Well, the very least that can be said is that only a minority of the nation now sees itself as “Christian.” But one should also ask how many of the 27.5 million people who self-identify as “Christian” come anywhere near to what the Bible calls “Christianity.”
Inescapably, being a Christian means believing in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the entire Bible as the word of God (Matthew 4:4). In that Bible, God inspired a helpful definition of true religion: “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27)—in other words, to care for others and not to let worldly ideas and values corrupt you.
And this is not achieved by just outwardly conforming to external guidelines. It requires an internal transformation of human nature, which comes when God’s nature becomes rooted within each of us (Romans 12:1–2). A true Christian is certainly a follower of Jesus Christ, but at a deeper level, each one is a Christlike person who is being transformed by God’s Spirit to have a new godly “heart.” God’s purpose for humankind is that we be infused with His divine nature to become part of His eternal Family of Spirit Beings (John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:3–9; 2 Peter 1:3–4).
God is actively looking for those who will “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24). This means knowing what constitutes truth, and it means receiving and using God’s Holy Spirit—which will bring about the growth of God’s nature in the Christian and lead to God’s gift of eternal life beyond the grave. If you would like to learn more about this amazing way of life and incredible future, order a free copy of What Is a True Christian? from the Regional Office nearest you or read it online at TomorrowsWorld.org.