Christianity in Public Life

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:56 pm on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East 2:56 pm, 11th March 2009

Yes. We could have a long theological debate. The Amish, the Mennonites and others have taken a more distinct view, but I want to be involved in the life of the Church and of the state. There is a danger that parts of the Church are becoming too separate from society, but it is not the Church as a whole but individual believers who should engage in society.

The state's role should be to treat all people equally, whatever faith they have, or lack. The state should not favour Christianity over other faiths, but secular humanism should not be favoured over those who have faith, and nor should any other faith be favoured over Christianity. The briefing for the debate contains examples of places where Christians are discriminated against, and it could be argued that, because Christianity has enjoyed a favoured place for centuries, it should balance that out by suffering a bit. I confess that there may be some validity in that, because the Church has abused its position in many countries, including this one. However, we must surely want to move to a position whereby the state is even-handed.

Some in the Churches want to return to the old days, with Christianity as the state religion. Others fear that it is no longer possible to have a strong Christian faith in public life. Faith became quite a major issue during my by-election last July, and it was encouraging to find that a number of people realised that it was still possible to be open about one's Christian faith and, first, to be selected by a mainstream party, a category in which I include my party, and, secondly, to be elected by the public.

Since arriving at Westminster, I have been interested in the vestiges of Christianity around the place. For example, there is Prayers at the start of each sitting. Is that a good thing? I have mixed feelings about it. Some attend only to book their seat for whatever business comes next, and I fear that the prayers themselves give a dry and dusty view of Christianity. However, I decided on the spur of the moment to have a prayer at the opening of my constituency office in January. My pastor turned up unexpectedly, and I suddenly thought that I would ask him to pray. The reaction was interesting. One unbelieving friend walked out and argued that it was totally inappropriate, while the guy from the local newspaper thought that it was appropriate. So there we are.

Where should those of us with a Christian faith look for a model of how faith fits into society? Some look to Israel in the Old Testament or even to European society in recent centuries, where the state and the Church were strongly interlinked. However, for those who know the Bible, I suggest that a better model might be Daniel, and others such as Joseph and Mordecai, when God's person was in a fairly hostile environment. Daniel stood out as a light in a dark place, and we as Christians should do the same. We are not Christian believers because we are born in England, Scotland or any other country, any more than somebody born in a coal mine is a piece of coal; every one of us has to make our own personal decision about faith. All I ask from society and the state is that they treat us even-handedly.