Seven years ago I had the privilege going to Oxford University for the first time. I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church in Oxford.
You can read about that visit in these posts on my blog.
Tomorrow I will be heading to England once again. I have some meetings with our London team for 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' and will also be visiting my friend Tricia Neil at the Alpha International offices - they are doing such amazing work.
My very good friend, Dr Wessel Bentley (the Chief Researcher from the Unit for the study of religion at the University of South Africa) will be coming to Oxford as well. Wessel and I have written a number of books together and have been friends for most of my ministry. I am so blessed to be able to share this trip with him!
Our most recent book is entitled 'Between Capiltal and Cathedral: Essays on Church and State relationships' - you can order it on kindle here and a paper copy here.
I will be presenting a paper at the Oxford Institute in which I argue for the importance of having a secular state. I have often encountered a mistaken understanding in popular Christianity which assumes that if one has a Christian state (or head of state in some variations of that theme) then the nation will be better. Sadly, research has shown that Christian political parties and Christian politicians often fair no better (and sometimes thankfully no worse) than their secular or 'other faith' counterparts.
In my paper I argue that what we need is a robust democracy with a just, secular, state that protects the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of their faith persuasion.
Think about this - there are three possible faith orientations in the modern state.
Religious state (such as in Iran, and currently in Egypt). This is not helpful if you do not belong to that particular religion, or even to the variation of that particular religion that is the same as the persons who hold power (as we saw in Iraq under Sudam Hussein).
The anti-religious state - this is probably akin to what we saw in the former Soviet Union, Cambodia and China. In this state religion and religious persons are persecuted. Naturally I am not in favour of this approach since I believe that religious freedom and religious belief are central aspects to human flourishing. Some of the modern anti religious fundamentalists (such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens) tend towards this approach - not only do they purport not to hold a faith position (which is utter nonsense! Of course they have a faith position, it is a form of secular humanism or scientism), but they wish to persecute and ridicule persons who do not hold their supposed 'no faith' position. This form of fundamentalism is as dangerous as that of the fundamentalist religious state.
Neither of the two approaches above are Biblical or in keeping with the values of God's Kingdom.
My chosen view is that we should have a secular democratic state - this would seem to make the most sense to me. In this state the rights of all the citizens are considered and advanced. There should be no persecution of any sensible religious movement, and at the same time no privileged status accorded to any faith movement.
What makes this even more appealing for me is that I believe it leaves room for the 'Church to be Church' - evangelism, religious education, discipleship, mission, moral formation and the like are all functions of a healthy and effective Church. I believe that the nation requires a strong, healthy, Kingdom minded Church.
Well, do let me know your thoughts on the above! Once my paper has been delivered I will post a copy here (it has already been published and so I will just need to get permission to share it).
I would appreciate your prayers for me and my family as always!