I spent this afternoon at a counter-demonstration against the attempt to intimidate worshippers at Harrow Central Mosque by the far-Right group ‘Stop the Islamification of Europe’. There was a wonderful feeling of solidarity, with a great diversity of people uniting together in the face of the thinly-veiled racism of this group. One thing which occurred to me as I journeyed back was that Christians need to be vigilant to prevent our faith being co-opted by hatemongers. Far-Right groups have made claim to be protecting ‘Britain’s Christian heritage’, and the BNP have a front organisation The Christian Council of Britain. In combination with the current trend by these groups to scapegoat Muslims, the door is open to a very dangerous politics indeed. As Ekklesia have pointed out, Christian leaders can hardly be absolved from adding to the rhetorical melting pot.
I feel that I will probably post something substantial about issues around faith, nationhood and ‘Christian Britain’ at some point. I’m very much against the suggestion that Britain, or any other nation state, is (or should be) a ‘Christian country’ – one of the revolutionary insights of Christianity is that of liberation from merely national identity into the catholica of the Kingdom. But a detailed post on this is not going to happen now. I’m feeling tired and end-of-termy. Instead, I’m going to end this post by saying how much I enjoy Gaudete Sunday. I like the way the liturgy hints forwards towards Christmas. And I like the fact that during Advent, as during Lent, Christian tradition has developed the habit of taking a Sunday off from the intensity of the season in order to simply rejoice. It is the religious equivalent of sparing a few hours for drinks with friends during a hectic and stressful week. Wise psychology – but not just that; there is a theological point to be made. As Karl Barth used to sum up Christian belief, God’s ‘yes’ is bigger than our ‘no’. The Christian account of human existence is not a tragic one. The good stuff outweighs the bad stuff, not solely in Harrow on a Sunday afternoon, but much more generally. Even whilst we are pondering the weight of history during this season, there is something badly wrong if we don’t acknowledge the fundamentally optimistic feel of the story we have to tell about humanity. And what better way of doing so than having a day set aside for saying Gaudete?