On 13 April, Channel 4 took a deep breath, risked the inevitable charge of being ‘Islamophobic’ and aired on screen its study of UK Muslim attitudes, What British Muslims really think.
The broadcaster’s choice of person to front the programme was Trevor Phillips, erstwhile Chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. He had jumped at the chance to be involved.
And what were his conclusions? The programme made the frankly uncontroversial point that many Muslims in the UK do not share the values of their ‘progressive’ neighbours. But Trevor Phillips and co, expected their audience would be shocked by this revelation. How curious!
Based on interviews conducted with 1,081 Muslims by ICM and live interviews of Muslims, the programme revealed that a goodly number have not integrated into modern British culture. What was more, it warned its viewers, many have not the slightest intention of changing anytime soon.
The multicultural dream that people with wildly conflicting ideas ‘will just get on fine’ appears to have stalled. Trevor Phillips, as one who had cherished this utopian hope, was forced to admit he had been wrong. He, like many of his friends, had assumed Muslims would outgrow their convictions and join in the great party being thrown in sexually liberated, diversity celebrating, post-Christian Britain!
To his amazement (and, apparently, Channel 4 viewers’ as well), Muslims are not impressed by what they see of ‘British values’ and are not joining in the fun.
Here are a few of the eye-catching statistics. Some 23 per cent of the Muslims surveyed would like to see areas in Britain where sharia law takes precedence over British law. A fifth surveyed had not entered the house of a non-Muslim in the last year.
True, only 4 per cent had any sympathy with suicide bombing, where the aim was to rectify injustice. But only a third of respondents would report someone to the police if they knew they were involved in supporting terrorism in Syria. For good measure, 35 per cent reckoned the Jews have too much power in Britain (compared to a control sample of 8 per cent).
For well-briefed Christians, such Muslim attitudes are hardly surprising. But maybe the finding that sent liberal opinion reeling was that 52 per cent of Muslims thought lesbian and gay relationships should be illegal. That was a tough one to take on the chin!
There is certainly something here for us to reflect upon in witnessing to Muslims. While we mustn’t go in feet first and lead in our witness with statistics like these, we should not ignore such data either.
Back now to Trevor Phillips. Why has it been such a shock to one of the big hitters of the liberal establishment, to find a group holding distinct religious convictions actually prefer its own convictions to progressive alternatives?
Mr Phillips certainly did not see this one coming, in 1997, when think-tank Runnymede Trust published its report, Islamophobia: a challenge to us all. This report did much to popularise ‘Islamophobia’ as a pejorative label. He was a member of its 18-strong commission and, although not chairman for the report, was overall chairman of the trust.
He obviously felt, back then, despite the wall of protection the report threw around conservative Muslim thought and practice, that exposure to British liberal values would soon have Muslims queuing to join in. How wrong he was!
And yet, surprise, surprise, the same fanciful hopes are cherished by liberal-minded people when it comes to Christians! When Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s director of communications, famously deflected questions put to the Prime Minister about his religious convictions, by saying, ‘We don’t do God’, he was speaking for more than himself.
The Western secular mind has little comprehension of people with convictions about living in the here-and-now to please God, and the after-life and judgment. Rather, they have a sneaking suspicion we are not for real and, when the goodies of the multicultural, progressive utopia become more evident, it will all prove irresistible.
An obituary for an evangelical man I saw some years back finished on this puzzled note: that the man had maintained his convictions all his life.
The assumption seemed to be that religious convictions are capable of being blown away like autumn leaves; that our opposition to gay marriage and determination to manifest Christian belief in the public square will, sooner or later, be quietly discarded.
But now for some self-examination. Do we give people good reason to think we are superficial people whose trust in Christ hardly goes more than skin-deep? Or do they sense that we hold deep convictions and are in earnest about what we believe?
It was surely an indictment on Lot that, when he counselled his neighbours in Sodom about forthcoming judgment, they refused to take him seriously. ‘To his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking’ (Genesis 19:14). The apostle Peter reveals Lot as ‘oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked, (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)’ (2 Peter 2:7-8). Yet, when he warned others of impending judgment, they simply did not think he was being serious.
So do non-Christians think that of us? Do they find us trivial and careless in our Christian living? Or do they get the message that we belong somewhere else and our hopes are set on a heavenly country? Sadly, secular people can too easily conclude we are looking for the same things that they are.
The fake Christianity of the tele-evangelists, where the love of money, fame and power are stand-out features, and where marital breakdown and sexual scandal are not uncommon, can easily create that impression.
Never feel that we have to stay silent in the face of this bad behaviour. We might actually earn some respect in the eyes of unbelievers by differentiating ourselves from such false Christianity, and voicing with Bibles to hand, our unhappiness with behaviour that brings the faith into disrepute.
Or look at Governor Felix when he was Paul’s captor. He ‘hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him’ (Acts 24:26). Felix felt that Paul had a price and could eventually be bought off.
Secularists often feel that way about us too. Perhaps many of them believe Christians are, deep down, profoundly unhappy people, living in a world of gloom and grim self-denial? Perhaps they think the Bible leaves us duty-bound and restricted by its set of limitations?
Yet we are delighted, not dismayed, by the Bible’s teachings on creation, marriage, sexual propriety — and a host of other issues as well. These are not wearisome and intellectually stunting. They are not ‘bolt-ons’ interfering with secretly held wishes and passions. The Bible’s teaching is profoundly liberating and integral to our make-up.
So, how attached are we to Scripture’s teaching? How comfortable are we articulating the biblical worldview on such things as ‘gay marriage’? Are we not joyful and contented in Christ alone? A lot of non-Christians, liberals and secularists think that we privately envy them. It is a horrible question to ask, but do we?
It is good for us to remember some of this when speaking to non-Christians. Let them know the intensity and enthusiasm with which we hold our convictions. Let them know it is no hardship to follow Christ, who has promised good for our souls for time and eternity. Let them know of our love for the truth of the Bible, our love for Christ.
‘I would not change my blest estate
For all the world calls good or great;
And while my faith can keep her hold,
I envy not the sinner’s gold.’
A website I was looking at recently made some radical observations on this self-same Channel 4 programme. It rejoiced in its own set of values compared with ‘decadent liberal ones’. It replied to Trevor Phillips’ disappointment over Muslims not being ‘intellectually convinced of the correctness of liberal values’.
Of its own people it said, they observe our ‘free’ hyper-sexualised society with all its family breakdown; they look at the spiritual vacuum at the heart of our society and realise (with pity) why people have to worship at the altar of deceased celebrities to get temporary spiritual fulfilment, with no one actually seeming any happier. But don’t agree with the website too quickly! It belongs to radical Islamic campaigning group Hizb ut Tahrir. They are not for turning.
How much more do Christians need to say, ‘This is what we believe. Get over it!’
Chris Hand is pastor of Crich Baptist Church, Derbyshire.