The British government knows so little about religion that they think conservative evangelical Christians are as bad as Islamist extremists, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
The Church of England’s most senior bishop said government officials often dismiss Christians as “a bit bonkers” if they hold traditional views, and called on ministers to learn more about religious belief.
Addressing a conference of Church of England head teachers, Justin Welby said: “Our Government generally is desperately trying to catch up, to understand a world in which they have no grip on what it is to be religious at all; where religious illiteracy is prevalent and extremely destructive of understanding and where they can’t see really the difference between an extremist Muslim group like the Muslim Brotherhood and a sort of conservative evangelical group in a Church of England church.”
The Telegraph also quotes him as saying: “It’s fine to reject and condemn many of the things done in the name of religion but you still need to understand what it is that can so catch hold of someone that they think life itself is not worth living if that contradicts what they believe.”
The archbishop recounted one meeting he had with a “very senior politician” who accused Anglican bishops of failing to support the government’s so-called “British values” agenda because they refused to say their religious beliefs were less important than the rule of law.
“He said ‘look at our British values, what have you got against the rule of law as a British value? I mean are you seriously going to tell me that I don’t call someone an extremist if they say that their faith is more important than the rule of law?’,” the Archbishop said.
“So I took a deep breath and said ‘Well, you’ve got a real problem here because for me personally my faith is more important than the rule of law so you’ve got an extremist sitting in here with you’.”
The British government’s efforts to promote British values in schools have been frustrated partially because few agree on what they actually are.
One document drawn up by the Department for Education last year was slammed as “vacuous” and “ideologically driven” by Christian groups after it failed to mention Christianity as key British value, instead highlighting secular festivals such as Burns Night, May Day and even the Notting Hill Carnival.
Andrea Williams of Christian Concern said: “We should celebrate the freedoms and amazing advances that Christianity has brought to Britain. Airbrushing Christianity out doesn’t prepare children for life in modern Britain, it deceives them.”