David Cameron believes Britain is a Christian country, but these days less than half of us describe ourselves as Christian, and only 5% of us go to church on a weekly basis.
In ‘Is Britain Christian?’ Tonight asks if the Prime Minister is right, and if it matters if he’s not? Should we accept that Christianity needs to take a back seat in a modern secular society, or will some communities lose more than bricks and mortar?
Britain’s history, laws and traditions are rooted in Christianity. The Queen is head of the Church of England - a tradition that dates back to the Tudors. Some of our greatest art, literature and music is inspired by Christianity. But these days, less than half of us describe ourselves as Christian.
This has left some of those who continue to hold very strong beliefs feeling marginalised. British Airways employee Nadia Eweida and nurse Shirley Chaplin have both fought in the European Courts for the right to display crucifix necklaces as part of their uniform.
But devout Christians are now very much in the minority. Professor Linda Woodhead, a sociologist at Lancaster University and expert in religion says,
However, there is one area of society which retains a strong Christian identity: a third of schools in Britain are faith-based, and for the vast majority of those, the faith in question is Christianity.
Tonight has visited St Oswald’s Primary School in Bradford, where the majority of pupils are Muslim. The school has a Christian ethos, but teaches pupils about different religions as part of its Religious Education programme. Several of the Muslim parents at St Oswald’s have told Tonight they appreciate the strong values of the school, and feel it is important for their children to learn about different cultures.
Many who've moved away from the church still seem very attached to some of its values. Comedian Sanderson Jones co-founded Sunday Assembly: a regular congregational event which aims to mirror the community spirit and support found in traditional churches – but minus the 'God' bit. There are now 26 of these groups in 3 countries.
But it’s not all bad news for the church: in the UK, membership of Pentecostal churches has risen by around 20% over the past five years, often boosted by immigrant communities.
One of the fastest-growing churches in London is Jesus House, which has its roots in Nigeria, and welcomes around three thousand worshippers every Sunday. Senior Pastor Agu Irukwu told Tonight,
St Thomas’ in Warrington, an Anglican church, is also trying to open itself to the local community. As well as traditional services, hey have a mother and toddler group, a credit union and a food bank. According to Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, this approach is crucial for the future.