It’s official: religion makes you contribute more to society
Not just any religion, of course; but Christianity. And not just any denomination of Christianity; but specifically the evangelical type, if, indeed, evangelicalism may be defined as a denomination, as it appears to embrace a number of Protestant movements. The symbiosis of this union with the impetus to social action has long been known, but the Evangelical Alliance has sought to quantify it. Yet since their survey was aimed only at evangelicals, one ought not to presume that Roman Catholics, Sikhs or Jedi Knights are any less fervent in their citizenship: it may indeed be that being generally ‘religious’ spurs one on to all manner socio-political action.
The Evangelical Alliance asks “What is a typical evangelical Christian? What contributions do they make to society? What do they believe? What opinions do they hold about the most pressing issues of the day?”
Unfortunately, the survey appears to pre-ordain these ‘most pressing issues’ (civil partnerships, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan). It distils matters of belief to the traditional evangelical fundamentals (cross, resurrection, sin, etc); and really offers little insight on what constitutes a ‘typical evangelical’. In His Grace’s experience, they are almost universally kind and hospitable; sing an awful lot of Shine, Jesus, Shine; believe the Canon of the Bible was handed down by God; praise the Lord when they find a lost saucepan; rejoice in Middle-East bloodshed and social breakdown, ‘for these things must be’; and their view of Church history begins with Acts and then jumps straight to Amazing Grace. Certainly, His Grace has never yet met an evangelical who grasps the Patristics, understands Chalcedon or appreciates the historical significance of any of the early Ecumenical Councils.
Some may, of course. But His Grace is speaking generally, as the survey manifestly does. And generally, the evangelical social focus is on issues such as poverty, abortion and homosexuality; while theologically it is upon penal substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, the authority of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers.
Some 1,151 evangelicals were surveyed, and the findings are published in Does belief touch society?. Overwhelmingly (if unsurprisingly) they expressed their confidence in the central message of Christianity: that Jesus died for our sins, and rose again from the dead. But this is not mere belief in a doctrine: it is inspiration to active involvement in society. Interestingly, 25 per cent of respondents are also trustees of a registered charity (compared to 2.2 per cent nationally). Nine per cent serve as school governors (compared to 0.7 per cent nationally), and four per cent are members of a political party (compared to 1.3 per cent nationally).
These evangelical Christians also beat the national average for serving as councillors for their local authorities and as court magistrates. Astonishingly, a mammoth 91 per cent turned out to vote in the AV referendum (compared to 42 per cent nationally), with 38 per cent voting in favour. 81 per cent of evangelicals do some kind of voluntary work at least once a month, contributing a total of around half a million hours each week to their communities. But the EA is right to observe: “While the nature of our sample and the online method of carrying out this research may have over-represented people who are more likely to be active in public life, the results represent a huge investment of unpaid time and energy by evangelical Christians in the voluntary and community sector, in education and health services, in politics and in the trade union movement.”
And on trade union membership, evangelicals are, on average, more likely to be members of a trade union, specifically Unison, followed by the NUT, NASUWT and Unite. The EA observes: “These results suggest a strong representation among our respondents of those in the education, health and general public service sectors.” Social action projects were more popular among Charismatic, Anglican, Methodist and emerging church members than among those from the Church of Scotland, Free Evangelicals, and Pentecostals.
On ‘gay marriage’, 80 per cent were against proposals, with 10 per cent in favour. Presumably the other 10 per cent were indifferent. Interestingly, 15 per cent of Anglicans were in favour, while Pentecostals and Charismatics were 88 per cent opposed.
His Grace thinks this all worth reporting (and the full document worth reading), not least in the context of the observations of the Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe a few days ago. She suggested that the turfing out at the last general election of the fundamentalist atheist, aggressive secularist, pro-abortion, pro-Euthanasia, Dr ‘Death’ Evan Harris was down to the united efforts of Christians:
Catholics and Evangelical churches – led by a woman vicar - banded together in a major campaign. They delivered a leaflet giving Dr Harris’ voting record to every home in the constituency which was paid for by their parishioners (not from church funds). I have to say that the only Anglican I heard of supporting Dr Harris was the former Bishop of Oxford who is pro-abortion and pro embryo experimentation as his votes in the House of Lords testify.His Grace thinks there may have been one or two other variables at play (Lembit Opik, for example, was not ejected by the churches), but Ms Widdecombe is certainly on to something. United, speaking with one voice, Christians are strong. Divided into uncompromising denominations and insular theologies, we are manifestly weakened. But when even the ‘pro-Life’ movement can’t bring its warring factions together on the single micro-political issue of abortion counselling, what hope is there for the pressing macro religio-political issues of the day?
In the event most people were of the opinion that the good Bishop’s intervention (in the form of a letter of support) did Evan Harris more harm than good. He lost the election to a young Conservative, Nicola Blackwood, who obtained a slim majority of 176 votes. It meant that the Christian churches had shifted almost 8,000 votes.