Britain’s sunset Christianity
As the latest UK census figures show a steep decline in the number of those professing to be Christians, the challenge to believers must be to make known the gospel of Christ and to cry to God for his salvation.
The number of people claiming to be Christian in England and Wales has declined by more than four million in the 10 years between the 2001 and 2011 censuses.
The number of Protestant Christians in Northern Ireland has also shrunk, as Catholicism, secularism and other beliefs take hold. In Belfast, the Catholics outnumber the Protestants. Figures relating to religion in Scotland are expected to be released in mid-2013.
According to the 2001 census, more than 37 million of the 52,041,916 population of England and Wales ticked the ‘Christian’ box in the voluntary religious census question. This equated to 71.7 per cent of respondents.
By 2011, the population of England and Wales had risen to 56,075,912, but the number claiming to be ‘Christian’ had dropped to 33,253,016 only 59.3 per cent of the total.
The sharp reduction in the number of people identifying themselves as ‘Christian’ is one of the significant findings in the analysis of the responses to the question on religion in the 2011 census, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 11 December 2012.
Muslims now represent 4.8 per cent of the population of England and Wales, their number having risen from just under 3 per cent in 2001 to 2,706,066 in 2011. More than a million of them live in London, where residents professing Christianity are now in a minority of 48.4 per cent.
Between 2001 and 2011 the number of Muslims in London increased by 67 per cent, from 607,083 (8.5 per cent) to 1,012,823 (12.4 per cent).
If Greater London were removed from the analysis, the figures for the rest of England and Wales would show Muslims representing only 3.5 per cent of the population, instead of 4.8 per cent, as the ONS figures show that the Muslim population is concentrated in urban areas.
Meanwhile, the proportion of the population claiming to have no religion increased from 14.8 per cent (7,709,267) in 2001 to 25.1 per cent (14,097,229) in 2011.
The regions with the highest proportion of professing Christians are the north-east (67.5 per cent) and north-west (67.3 per cent). The ten local authority areas with the highest proportion of Christians are all in the north-west, the highest being Knowsley, Merseyside, at 80.9 per cent.
At the other end of the spectrum, the London borough of Tower Hamlets has the smallest proportion of Christians, at 27.1 per cent, and a higher number of Muslims, at 34.5 per cent.
Seven other London boroughs are in the lowest ten. Newham has 32 per cent Muslim compared with 40 per cent ‘Christian’ respondents, while Leicester has the smallest concentration of Christians outside London.
According to the figures, Norwich is the country’s most secular place, with 42.5 per cent of its citizens having no religion. Brighton and Hove is second, with 42.4 per cent.
Next in this list are, surprisingly, three valley authorities in South Wales. Where once these valleys would have echoed to the sound of such hymn tunes as Cwm Rhondda, a godless way of life has taken over, for example, in Blaenau Gwent (41.1 per cent), Caerphilly (40.9 per cent) and Rhondda Cynon Taf (40.8 per cent).
The influential cities of Oxford and Cambridge both have a ‘no religion’ figure significantly higher than the national average of 25.1 per cent, perhaps indicating the direction of contemporary intellectual society.
Behind the numbers
It needs to be noted that the 2011 census offered no definition of the term ‘Christian’. Respondents were simply asked to tick a box in answer to the question, ‘What is your religion?’
In the light of the simplicity of these choices, those who ticked the ‘Christian’ box will have had a multitude of different reasons for doing so. Millions will have simply identified with elements of a British culture they still perceive as Christian.
How do we know this? The results of a more detailed survey of religious belief in Europe were published by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in spring 2011, under the title Religion or belief.
Table 12 of that survey shows that in Britain, 37 per cent said they believed there was a God. Extrapolating that into the 2011 census results, it could be argued that 22.3 per cent of those who identified themselves as Christian do not believe there is a God.
Since the Christian religion believes there is a God, this means 22.3 per cent of the population were, in the 2011 census, ticking the ‘Christian’ box for reasons other than a personal faith in Christ.
The speed with which identification with Christianity is disappearing from the population’s perception of itself ought to be a cause of great concern. The 2011 census figures mean that every day that goes by, 1,119 fewer people in England and Wales regard themselves as ‘Christian’.
Evangelicals, by definition, preach Christ crucified. Are evangelicals doing all we can, corporately and individually, to lead people to Jesus Christ?