The current social and political landscapes of the U.S. and the U.K. have several similarities, as I noted in part one of this series.
Here I want to look more specifically at the major issues of our day, again comparing the U.S. and the U.K., beginning with the three issues that have been brought into focus by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022: abortion, guns and climate change.
Abortion is a huge issue in the U.S. Essentially, the battle is over whether the rights of women or the rights of unborn children take precedence. It is a massively complex issue and striking down Roe vs Wade was an earth-shattering decision.
In the U.K., abortion law is very liberally interpreted and within a 24-week limit almost all abortions are allowed. It may seem very strange, but there is little debate.
In the church, even among the most conservative evangelicals, the topic is rarely raised. There was a little flurry of interest in changing this after the Supreme Court ruling, but the general sense is one of disinterest. Abortion is highly unlikely to be an election issue in the U.K. anytime soon.
On guns, the vast majority of the U.K. population looks on in dismay at the terrible death toll from mass shootings in the U.S. We have had very strict gun laws for a long time now, and hardly anyone wants that to change.
Yes, we do have an increase in knife crimes in some cities, but the numbers killed or injured are miniscule compared to the mass shootings in the U.S. It is very hard to imagine any U.K. mainline political party wanting to change our gun laws.
Climate change is one topic that is a major concern in both countries. In the U.K., it has been a much less politicized issue than in the U.S., which is very much split on party lines.
I sense that has been changing over the last five years or so, with those on the right of U.K. politics more likely to hold climate sceptic positions or to oppose policies that cut carbon emissions.
But even so, the official position of the Conservative Party is to take climate change seriously, and after all, it is less than a year since the U.K. hosted the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow.
The problem we have is that often U.K. politicians set targets for carbon emissions cuts but show little sign of implementing policies that will achieve them.
The war in Ukraine has focussed many people on fuel security. Unfortunately, this has given an excuse for those opposed to taking action on emissions cuts to propose new coal mines and oil fields, with even fracking back on the agenda.
When Joe Biden was elected president, he made climate change a key focus for his administration. Unfortunately, his efforts were dented first in the Senate, ironically by fellow Democrat Joe Manchin, and now by the Supreme Court in their ruling over the powers that the Environmental Protection Agency has to enforce emissions cuts in individual states.
Meanwhile, we are seeing record temperatures around the world, and time is slipping away if we are to avoid very serious problems later this century.
Immigration is a key issue for both the U.S. and the U.K. Since Brexit, U.K. government policy has hardened on the issue, but they have not been able to stop the flow of immigrants coming across the Channel from France.
Most recently, they decided to deport some immigrants to Rwanda. There was widespread condemnation of this policy. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby used his Easter sermon to criticize it, and there was almost unanimous agreement with him from other faith leaders.
The first flight to Rwanda did not happen due to legal representations on behalf of the immigrants and the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights. The U.K. government remains committed to the policy, seeing it as a deterrent for those trying to come to the U.K.
At the moment, there appears to be slightly less focus on immigration in the U.S., but it is only a few years since we were seeing the even more draconian policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border, also being used as a deterrent.
As I write, the U.S. House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection is still hearing evidence. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that something went terribly wrong that day, and that Donald Trump has been implicated as being at least partly responsible for fomenting a rebellion, with the aim of overturning the election result.
In the U.K., we have just seen the apparent downfall of Boris Johnson, whose Conservative Party colleagues finally turned against him after “Partygate,” several other scandals and poor by-election results.
Public confidence in government and in the integrity of politicians is not very high in both countries.
So, whichever way we turn it seems that the U.S. and the U.K. have very serious problems at the moment: social, political, environmental and economic.
But we should remember that these two countries are among the richest and most privileged, and many are far worse off.
What can we do about all this? I guess we should turn to Norman Wirzba’s last chapter (see part 1 of this article) and start implementing it.
Editor’s note: This is the second article of a two-part series. Part one is available here.
An environmental scientist on the board of The John Ray Initiative, a UK-based charity connecting environment, science and Christianity. He recently published the 2nd edition of A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues and Green Reflections: Biblical Inspiration for Sustainable Living (both co-authored with his wife, Margot).