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Welcome to the Brave New World of 1984 UK style – where religion must have a government approved stamp.

In the surreal world in which we live, where a republican Marxist could be Prime Minister and Donald Trump could be president of the US, I guess that nothing should surprise me. But this one comes straight out of the Monty Python book of ironic surrealist history. The government wants to send me back to school, to learn their version of theology and ensure that I am not an extremist!

I spent seven years training to become a Free Church minister. And that was only the beginning. I have been on numerous ‘refresher’ courses, taken sabbaticals and of course I read and train continuously. So in one sense being told that I could be required to receive ‘special training’, is not particularly alarming. Except for who it is that is doing the training!

The government are concerned about Muslim extremists and so, in order to combat this, they want to promote and protect ‘British values’. To achieve this aim they are proposing to establish a national register of ‘faith leaders’. These faith leaders will receive special training and special security checks. Any faith leaders who want to be involved in the public sphere (basically all of us) will have to be on this register. This is the British government’s great strategy for countering extremism. What’s wrong with it?

1. It’s taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The danger comes from Muslim extremists. No other group. We are not under threat from Buddhists burning themselves in the street, or Baptists wanting to drown all heretics, or Bishops setting out on a crusade through the leafy suburbs of Surrey. The problem is a form of literalist Islam that seeks to bring about the Caliphate by attacking and destroying the perceived enemy of Islam, the West. The government knows this but because they operate on the myth that all religions are the same and therefore should all be treated the same, they don’t want to be seen distinguishing the Catholic Church from ISIS. So in order to get to their real target (Islamic extremism) they have to target everyone. It’s a cowardly, ignorant and self-defeating way of operating.

2. It’s totalitarian and wide open to abuse. Government control of religion is as bad as, if not worse than, religious control of the government. Politicians being politicians, they will face the temptation of both trying to control the church and other religious organisations, and of seeking to use them to control. Being in charge of the ‘opiate’ of the people is a powerful aphrodisiac! The government’s inability to distinguish between those who fly planes into buildings in the name of their God, and those who oppose government policy on marriage, is somewhat disturbing.

3. It’s self-contradictory. In order to protect British values they are going against British values. Once the government decides that it is responsible for theology then we have entered an Erastian state. A theocratic state is where the church/mosque/temple runs the state. An Erastian state is where the state runs the Church. The British constitution has been based upon recognition that church and state are interlinked but not synonymous. For me this is a fundamental principle.

I am moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. We are called that because in the early 19th century the British government, worried about ‘extremists’ calling for democratic freedom, were upset by the evangelicals in the Church of Scotland who argued that each local congregation should be free to call their own minister. The government argued that local landlords, or the State, had the right to appoint ministers. And so 400 ministers and one third of the people left the national establishment Church of Scotland, and formed the Church of Scotland, Free from state interference. For us the spiritual independence of the Church, and the headship of Jesus Christ means that the government of the church is, in the words of our ordination vows, “distinct from, and not subordinate to, civil government and that the Civil Magistrate does not possess jurisdiction or authoritative control over the regulation of the affairs of Christ’s church”. The current government proposal is a direct attack on the spiritual independence and freedom of the Church of Christ.

The ironic thing is that in many ways this is also unnecessary because in media such as the BBC, in universities and education and in politics and political appointments, those who do not buy into the philosophy of the liberal elites, are likely to be excluded anyway. It’s ironic that in a society where diversity is supposed to be a value, those who hold diverse views are de facto excluded. The government’s latest announcement simply means that what was an unwritten policy, has become a written one. Welcome to the world of 1984 (30 years late), where religion must have a government approved stamp, and ministers of Jesus Christ, must bow to the Prime Minister and his minister’s version of what Christianity should be. O Brave New World.

David Robertson is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland

This article was originally published on Christian Today – here –


  1. This register about “faith leaders” is a concern. according to the “British values” of the Equality Act 2010 “Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion.” So, is there a legal reason for the term “faith” being used in order to single out imams, priests etc, for it not to apply to say secularists or atheists?

    Ahh but some say secularism or humanism has never started wars. Let’s think about this – Neitzche coined the phrase “God is dead” meaning that both church and society is acting as if God is dead. Towards the end of his life he predicted something worse a a consequence than wars that had happened previously. Within a few years there was WWI followed by WWII. Even Richard Dawkins has the opinion that these wars had nothing to do with religion.

    Wars happen because people like to kill people and use many reasons as an excuse for doing so.

    I would be asking what would be done to address the issue if continuing issue of military intervention in the middle east epitomised by the recent drone strike in spite of the house of commons unprecedented vote against Cameron’s wishes to have air strikes in Syria.

    I don’t know of any part of either the book 1984 or the film that specifically mentions religion. However There is the figure of Emmanual Goldstein (more then a passing resemblance to Jeremy Corbyn in the film) who party members whip citizens into a frenzy of “hate speak” against. This satisfies citizens subdued feelings of anxiety and hatred from leading a wretched, controlled existence. By redirecting these feelings towards enemies that may not exist, the government subdues any dissenting voices.

    Conservative capitalism and maxist liberalism are, of course two sides of the same coin. If “faith” and “faith leaders” have become an object of hate then the country is in trouble. Faith is something that has spurred on many to do good works that benefit the country and people of faith or no faith.

  2. I almost never re-blog such articles, but this one is too good to pass up. As a church historian and a free church minister, I find the reasoning to be both compelling and eye-opening. The USA usually imitated the UK in matters religious, and anti-religious. It takes little or no imagination to see the day, when some Trump-like president will institute a similar scourge. My doctoral work at the University of Manchester focused on the Enlightenment as a forerunner of post-modernism. I discovered that in history Deconstructionism and post-modernism are usually followed by a new absolutism of either the right or the left. This moves me to write a fictionalized study under the title, “Manhattan 2050.”

    1. It’s so surreal that it prompted me to write my first novella. Welcome to Manhattan 2050, when “the foundations have collapsed.” (Psalm 11:3)

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