One of the most irritating accusations against Christianity, or faith in general, is that it causes conflict and sets one person against another.
It would be wrong to deny that this has sometimes been the case; there is enough melancholy material in the history books to prove it, though not, in fact, nearly as much as the typical New Atheist believes.

But an interesting piece of research has shown that far from fostering bigotry, Christian faith can actually increase tolerance and respect for people of other religions.

The survey by Warwick University researchers has shown that church-going young Christians give much more support to their Muslim peers, in comparison with young people who have no religious faith.

They are far more likely to support their right to wear a burqa or have their heads covered, for instance.

So far, so good. But these are young people, and they are not the movers and shakers in their churches.

One day they will be, of course, and it is to be hoped that they retain their openness and their sense of justice – because that is what it is.

What about their elders? The recent events in Norway have thrown a harsh light on a particular mindset that is profoundly attached to a national and cultural identity defined as white and – however loosely – Christian.

 We may reject in horror the actions to which this gave rise in Anders Behring Breivik’s case.

But versions of his philosophy are around in our churches and parachurch organizations.

There is loose talk in the evangelical world about the threat from Islam, Muslim takeovers and Sharia law, which feeds a sense of isolation and allows Christians the sense of being under siege.

Well, we have seen where that leads.

It is not the case that everyone concerned about questions of social cohesion and national identity is a closet Breivik sympathizer. There are legitimate questions that should not be stifled because of the actions of a wicked man.

But there is still work to be done in establishing the context of such a debate.

It begins with an absolute rejection of the oppositional language that is so regrettably common today, a relinquishing of the theologically indefensible identification of Britain and Christianity, and a commitment to Christ-likeness in thought, word and deed.

Christian young people are more likely than non-Christians to be tolerant of differences in religion.

What about the rest of us? Will our church leaders send a loud, clear message that not just the flowers of evil but their roots have no place among us?

MarkWoods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.

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