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Tim Stanley, historian and writer for the Daily Telegraph.
Good morning. At the beginning of the year an application was launched to build a mosque in the basement of a shopping center in downtown London. The application has now been withdrawn. Apparently, it attracted a great deal of anti-Islamic abuse. At the time, opponents of the project approached me, as a Christian journalist, suggesting that I write to the council to let them know what I thought about it. So I did as I was asked and I wrote the leader of the council to say I was all for it. I said, "I would welcome transforming what is currently a consumerist sprawl into a place of worship." I added, "if local Christian churches cannot attract the thousand worshipers a day that the mosque hoped to get, then the problem lies with them, not with the mosque."
At the heart of many objections to the mosque is the fear of replacement: that Christianity is in decline because it is being elbowed-out due to Islam. The religious character of many cities has changed due to migration but Islam isn't the only beneficiary. Pentecostal churches are flourishing as well.
It is true that countrywide we have seen a rise in Islam and a decline in Christian belief. But the reason for that lies with Christians who have stopped going to church, or with churches who have lost members and have failed to attract new ones. This is nothing new. If you visited parts of Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, you would discover high levels of agnosticism. The history of Christianity in modern Britain is one of peaks and troughs, a cycle of skepticism and revival. It is interesting to note that during the lock-down there has been huge interest in virtual services.
Vision and leadership matter. If believers don't make the case for Christianity with courage and compassion, of course church attendance will fall. Blaming other religions for that is, in my view, inaccurate and un-Christian. For what does it mean to be a Christian country, if that's what people still want. I'd imagine it means not only being Christian in raw numbers, not even just Christian in terms of popular belief, but also Christian in character. I think that means generosity, acceptance of others, and also, very importantly, a rejection of fear.
Fear can lead to despair, which many Christians see as the antithesis of their faith and as self-defeating. Nobody is going to have confidence in the church's message if it worries that it can only survive by closing the borders, and preventing other religions from opening temples. That is not the Christianity that I signed up to, one of good news and hope.
That was "Thought for the Day" with Tim Stanley, historian and writer for The Daily Telegraph.