In reality freedom ‘from’ religion means freedom from any form of religion (but especially biblical Christianity) in the public square. Militant secularists are as happy as Chinese Communists to have crosses in the public square pulled down. They want Christianity out of the public arena altogether. A ‘secular’ society is for them a ‘godless one’. We don’t ‘do God’ in education, health care, work, politics and media. They are happy for the church to be reduced to the equivalent of a line-dancing club or a Trekkie society. Do it in private – and don’t scare the horses!
Sadly, it seems to me as though the militant secularists are getting their way – aided and abetted by much of the church in the UK. We don’t need them to persecute us – we are in danger of secularising ourselves out of existence. The Spectator has a ‘religious’ podcast called Holy Smoke – which is largely a Catholic/High Anglican perspective on the state of the church. A few weeks ago they had a fascinating edition entitled ‘Suicide by Secularisation’. Although I largely come from a different perspective, I found myself in agreement with much of what was said. Damian Thompson accused both Anglican and Catholic bishops of forgetting spiritual power and instead seeking to exercise secular power. He suggested that there has been an intellectual decline in the quality of Christian leadership which has resulted in leaders virtue signalling that they are on board with the secular programme. ‘You can’t mitigate secularism by becoming secular’.
This is seen in different ways. For example, the Church of England bishops were loud in their condemnation of Dominic Cummings, even threatening to withdraw their co-operation from the government. Yet they uttered not a word when that same government imposed abortion on Northern Ireland. Plenty of bishops could be found to rightly condemn racism, but none to speak up against the slaughter of the unborn. Shamefully, 19 of them abstained when the issue was voted on in the House of Lords. If there is a Woke cause, the church will be right there. If there is a cause which is biblical, yet does not fit with the culture of the society – then the silence is deafening.
This secularisation of the church – whereby the church shares the beliefs and speaks with the same voice as the secular culture – is happening in the evangelical church too. On the one hand there are those Christians who confuse conservative theology with conservative politics – and long for the return of Christendom. On the other there are those who confuse biblical theology with progressive politics and think that Jesus would sign up for every progressive cause available.
Despite the BLM movement being a pseudo-Marxist organisation, opposing the nuclear family, seeking to destroy capitalism and promote transgenderism, there are evangelical leaders who have signed up to it hook, line and sinker. They think that by signing up to BLM marches they are ‘changing history’ and demonstrating ‘the radical grace of God that offers love, mercy and compassion to all’. It’s clichéd nonsense. Progressive politics baptised into evangelical language but ultimately meaningless.
I have watched as the church has become more and more polarised on political issues. People defriend you because you don’t like President Trump, or because you don’t dislike him enough. Others are happy to call you a racist and ‘unfriend’ you (the equivalent of disfellowshipping from the cyberworld) because you don’t accept that by being white you are automatically a racist and need to ‘take the knee’ to show repentance for the unconscious racism which they are conscious you have!
The politicisation of the church is perhaps the most obvious form of its secularisation. But there are other more subtle ways. For example, the turning of churches into social clubs or corporate charities which function more like business machines than family fellowships or the body of Christ is in my view just as dangerous. John Piper’s cry, ‘Brothers we are not professionals,’ needs to be echoed: ‘Churches, we are not businesses.’ Far too often, just as we seem to be importing the American-style politicization of the church, so we are importing the business methodology – particularly the doctrine that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’. How often has church or interdenominational policy been set by the ‘men in suits’ who tell us what they will or will not fund? You can’t upset ‘so and so’ because they will no longer fund us. You can’t have that person speak on your show, at your church, or in your seminary – or they will withdraw funding.
The church’s adoption of secular politics, secular methods and secular media styles mean that the militant secularists don’t really need to attack us. We are doing their job for them. We have bought into their methodologies, principles and ethos. Maybe it’s time for us to repent and to realise that we are supposed to be those who turn the world upside down, not those who try to keep it ‘the right way up’? We are not here to win the world’s approval for ourselves, but rather to win the world for Christ. A secular church is a saltless church which does not shine light into the darkness.
David Robertson is the Director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com