Britain’s Identity Crisis

Multiculturalism isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. The signs of fissures are everywhere in the Western world, and Britain, London in particular, is where the cracks are most visible. At the national level, London papers are dominated by the controversy surrounding a coming June vote on whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union or “Brexit” as the anti-EU faction calls it (meaning a “British exit” from the EU). One side argues that unity with Europe offers the safest economic future and the best defense against terrorism; the other argues for self-rule and the preservation of Britain’s unique culture and economy. The pro-EU faction sees hope and peace in a singular European state while the other is deeply (and, I think, rightly) suspicious of an unelected government determining the fates of nations of which they are not a part.

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Britain’s Political Schizophrenia

Within Britain, the fractures run very deep not only on this issue, but many others as well. Indeed, it seems that everyone is operating on a different set of assumptions. After decades of liberal immigration policies, Muslim’s now number 12 percent of London’s population. Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park, famous for its rich tradition of free speech, is dominated by them.* This afternoon I listened as one Muslim speaker there attempted to evangelize his audience. He wasn’t especially effective, but Muslims are making inroads in this country and throughout the Western world. But so are the unconverted, who are 28 percent of the British population. Atheism has never had more appeal, with its slick marketing, pretentious posturing, and claims of scientific certainty.

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A Muslim tries to make converts at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park

There are still other agendas: feminist protestors are common; animal rights activists wield enormous power; socialists are enjoying a comeback as youth, too young and poorly educated to remember or know the awful history of that system, eagerly embrace it for its alleged justice and compassion; and neo-fascism, once all but extinct, is again on the rise. The gaps between various competing visions for Britain’s economic, political, social and religious future are only growing wider.

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Socialists trying to make converts of their own

What can be done to cure such ideological and religious chaos?

This morning I caught a taxi and made my way to All Souls Anglican Church in central London. John Stott, the Billy Graham of Britain, was Rector of All Souls from 1950-1975 and Rector Emeritus from 1975 until his death in 2011. It was my privilege to meet this grand old man of the Christian faith whose words to me I will never forget. Bent with age, he gripped my hands with his and said, “Your work is very important. Keep it up. God bless you.” Stott has now gone to heaven, yes, but the church’s evangelical mission continues to thrive in the heart of this city that has largely forsaken the Gospel.

To enter the church I had to push my way past thousands of people who had yet another agenda: protesting Turkish oppression of the Kurds. (The church was not a focus of their protest, only a place to start their march to Trafalgar Square.) Once inside, the service hummed along peacefully, orderly, and biblically as if it were the center of a still universe. Of course, the universe outside the doors and stained glass was anything but still, but to those inside it simply did not exist for an hour or two. The sermon focused on the story of the “Rich Young Ruler” as told in Matthew 19 and stressed Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross in the face of our covetousness and worldliness. The only reference to the protestors who surrounded the church was when a police officer entered the foyer to tell attendees that they should exit from the side of the building.

As I left the church, entering once again a world of disorder, of men and women shouting slogans of anger and hate, and a world of competing, indeed, warring visions for humanity, I couldn’t help but think that the answers to the questions that this city, continent, and, yes, even the world sought, could be found in their very midst in the person of Jesus Christ who spoke that day, and in days past and in days future, through his people. It is the only true message of unity, hope, and salvation. Sadly, we seek to cure our ills via political means. As our Lord told us long ago, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the the Father but by me.”

* Are there places comparable to Speakers’ Corner in Islamic States? Certainly not. In 2012 I debated a Muslim on CNN International who, oddly, argued for free speech. I told her that I was pleased by her position on this issue, but that it contradicted her religion. She denied it. I then challenged her to name one Islamic state that protected free speech. She could not.