Conservatives, following Labour Government ministers are abandoning “multi-culturalism” and advocating “integration” yet our own Christian churches are multi-cultural not integrated. So why should there be a different standard for other faiths and cultures?
Only fifty years ago Christian denominations hardly talked to each other. In extreme cases such as Liverpool and Glasgow there was Protestant/Catholic violence and the “troubles” of Northern Ireland had yet to re-emerge. In some Liverpool wards “Protestant” candidates stood, in the absence of Conservatives, in order to defeat Roman Catholic Labour candidates. Previous to that we have had centuries of extreme violence between Protestants and Catholics.
The “Christian unity” movement, as a widely held ideal, is as recent as the 1960’s. Until then the different Christian denominations (C of E, Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic, etc.) each spoke as if they were the only true faith. They tried to get converts from each other. I have a press cutting from 1961, when for the first time, the Free Churches of Coventry joined the Anglicans in a procession of Christian witness – An historic moment. However a Baptist Union booklet from 1967 “Baptists and Unity” clearly is concerned about losing the Baptist identity.
The “summer of love” was not just an isolated “pop” event but reflected a wider belief in the 60’s that we should move towards a more peaceful co-operative society and the churches were an important part of that movement.
Early on the talk was of one “united” church with the different denominations integrated into one Church.
It soon became apparent that worshippers valued their own specific beliefs and methods of worship. Whilst they welcomed the dialogue and worshipping together they would NOT relinquish their own faith and practices – or cultures. So multi-culturalism not integration became the way to unity.
That is a respect for each other’s way of doing things. Respect was seen as much more than mere toleration. It meant that the other person’s faith was valued because it gave different insights. Worshipping together didn’t mean compromising your own beliefs but recognising that we are all struggling in different ways, to discover the truth.
Since the 60’s the churches are much more at peace with each other. They co-operate on such things as the Christian Aid collection. In most towns they worship together periodically. The clergy meet regularly and have pulpit swaps. Significantly the different denominations retain their own individuality.
We forget how far we have come. When our minister (Baptist) moved to another town in 68 our neighbouring Roman Catholic church gave him a presentation Bible – At the time this was regarded as a very significant step forward.
The experience of multi-culturalism in our churches is that you do have to work at it. You do have to meet and listen to each other. Respect for and value of each other’s cultures is vital. Finding practical things on which to co-operate, and succeed together is a great catalyst. The same applies between faiths and cultures. Integration has failed. Multi-culturalism works.