Wilberforce Academy Director, Dr Joe Boot, comments on the state of the nation and where we have gone since the Britain of the 1930s and 40s. Sadly, he says, with eroding freedoms and emptying churches, “the heart and soul of the nation [has become] disease-ridden, on life-support and on the edge of extinction.” How will history look back on this generation?
Looking back to the events of World War II is instructive for reflecting on the true price of appeasement and compromise. Despite the Munich agreement of September 1938, on September 1, 1939, the Nazi regime, under the leadership of a democratically elected Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland, triggering the start of World War II. Yet this was not the beginning of German aggression under the Nazis in Europe. By March 15, 1939, not only had Germany violated numerous elements of the Treaty of Versailles in terms of rearmament and remilitarization of the Rhineland, but German forces had marched into Czechoslovakia in the name of uniting German-speaking peoples. Taking over Bohemia and enforcing a ‘protectorate’ over Slovakia, their charge eastward demonstrated unequivocally that Hitler had lied at Munich and had no intention of keeping his word. It was at this point that the now notorious appeasement strategy of British Prime minister Neville Chamberlain was exposed for the folly that it was – a policy, as Winston Churchill memorably described it, of feeding the crocodile in the hope of being eaten last.
During the same period, from the Parliamentary backbenches throughout the 1930s, Churchill had sounded the alarm about German rearmament, Nazi ambitions and the lack of preparedness on the part of the British military in the event of a conflict. He was largely laughed at, ignored or condemned as a warmongering dinosaur. Even those within his own party frequently spoke against him as alarmist and draconian. It was only after massive pressure in the British press that in 1939 he was finally made a member of cabinet – and for that we can be thankful! It is a rare thing for cultural prophets to be heard and heeded, whether in ancient Israel, mid-twentieth century Britain or the early part of the twenty-first century in the West.
The recent high-profile commemorations of the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day should have been sobering for any thoughtful Christian – especially in the UK. As a Brit living in Canada, with a Dutch grandfather who fought in some of the dangerous early allied operations in Europe, I cannot help feeling a deep sense of sadness and regret at what we have become as a nation after all the faith-filled sacrifice of that era. Though by no means flawless, this was a generation deeply shaped by Christian virtues, quiet hope in God and a strong sense of the justice of their cause. They recognized that civilised society and socio-cultural order involves a covenant between past, present and future. As such they felt duty-bound to fight for the faith and freedoms that had been bequeathed to them through much sacrifice in the past and obligated to preserve that faith and freedom for their children and grandchildren.
But there can no longer be any doubt that the Britain of the 1930s and 40s, which my grandparents loved and defended, is gone. I do not just mean that the passage of time has altered the English landscape, or that the stylish modesty of 40s fashion has given way to the obvious and vulgar. Nor I am simply observing that various valuable customs, manners and traditions have all but disappeared – I remember as a boy, for example, my grandfather always raising his hat when passing a lady in the street or standing when a lady entered the room as a mark of respect. It is not only because the typical English roast dinner around the family table after church has gone the way of the dodo that I look back with grief – I would be just as happy with a family biryani these days. Rather, I mean that the heart and soul of the nation is disease-ridden, on life-support and on the edge of extinction.
Patriotism and a commitment to national sovereignty are now frowned on by millions in the UK as an American fetish – a position which is both ironic and absurd given the story of Britain. Entitled and ignorant university students totally alienated from their own history by the cultural subversion of progressive education demand the removal of statues and monuments of the great and the good. They ‘no-platform’ and seek to ban all opposition, even amongst their own professors, in the name of ‘safe spaces,’ whilst predictably demanding revolution. Common decency, respect, integrity and courtesy are endangered species in much of the country. The churches are largely empty, with the Church of England hierarchy leading the way in apostasy, decadence and limp-wristed surrender to radical progressivism and the endless extension of sexual revolution – its bishops often in the vanguard of anti-Christianity. Radical homosexual and gender identity activists like Mermaids and Stonewall call the shots, even in church schools, and often with church approval, like the Diocese of Chelmsford’s wholehearted support for transgender ideology and the silencing of dissenting clergy who are left little choice but to resign as in the case of the Rev. John Parker.
The courts seem less and less interested in freedom, justice and truth, and frequently persecute the righteous, tossing centuries of common law tradition to the wind. And the politicians (with some notable exceptions) are largely shallow, ineffectual, unprincipled pragmatists, giving voice to the faithless banality of a people largely interested in little more than entertainment and personal affluence – often in the form of political theft, in the name of social justice, from the productive and provident . Moreover, anti-Semitism is rife in Parliament with avowed Marxists leading the political opposition. And if this were not enough, the nation’s leaders are quite ready to surrender more and more of the national identity to Islamism.
If one asks, ‘where are the evangelicals?’ the answer is not what one would expect – Wilberforce, Wesley, Whitfield and Knox would turn in their graves – in fact I am surprised that Cromwell’s statue outside Parliament (Bible in hand) is not face down in the dust in despair at the nervelessness of his theological offspring! It is hard to even imagine hearing voices like theirs thunder God’s Word again through the corridors of power and in our churches as in the days of the English Revolution and evangelical awakening. One listens for those voices in vain amongst evangelical leadership. Some cries go up from a tiny minority, but they are hushed and criticised by their fellow believers as though something embarrassing was happening.
On most of the critical cultural issues confronting the Christian faith and British nation today, evangelical leaders (again mercifully with some exceptions), both independent and establishment, constitutes a coward’s chorus of appeasement, denial and compromise. The faithful that challenge the evangellyfish status quo – putting their heads above the parapet on issues like the silent pogrom of abortion, the assault on religious liberty for Christians in the public space (including workplace), the apostasy of the established church, the queer radicalism shaping education, the deep encroachment of Islamism throughout the culture, or the political redefinition of human identity, family and sexuality – these warriors are all too often condemned by fellow evangelicals as scaremongers with a persecution complex, are politely ignored, or disavowed as shrill, insensitive and extreme.
It is distressing to acknowledge that looking to most British evangelical luminaries for courageous leadership in confronting the sins and evils facilitating the persecution of Christians and our cultural collapse, is as worthwhile as turning to pastor Doeg the Edomite to save Ahimelech and his priests from Saul. Be a truly faithful prophet or priest, and those willing be seen with you in public start to dwindle. You may find a spear in your back, thrown in the name of preserving the existing order. It doesn’t seem to matter how much apostate ‘pastoral guidance’ is published by the COE, how many Christian student groups are banned, schools overrun with gender ideology, street preachers arrested and detained, or how many Christian students are ejected from university courses, magistrates removed, teachers, nurses or social workers hounded out of their jobs, or vicars and chaplains forced out of their ministry and parishes for standing up to the new liberal fascism; evangelicals keep their heads down, deny a problem exists, attack the strategy of those defending the persecuted, or just smile and wave.
One would think that the plight of Christians in Canada would be a lesson, but British evangelicals are deaf to it. Canada is, in several areas, a few years ahead of Britain in a downward anti-Christian trajectory. Canadians already have euthanasia and physician assisted suicide and there is no abortion law at all – abortion can be performed at any time. Speech codes are being enforced by human rights commissions and courts, where Christians are being fined thousands for misgendering people; fathers are charged with ‘family violence’ for not recognising the transgender identity of their young children; and doctors are forced by the Ontario courts to provide “effective referral” for euthanasia, abortion and so-called sex-change operations – which is to say, Christian doctors can believe what they like in their heads, but cannot actually live as Christians – religious freedom is denied. The Canadian federal government has also instituted an ideological litmus test for tax-funded student grants for summer jobs. Those churches and organisations that don’t meet the state’s orthodoxy test on abortion and inclusion are denied funding. Private Christian schools and homeschools in Western Canada are told to remove references to people being made in God’s image in their statements of faith, and Trinity Western University is denied the right to a law school by the Supreme Court because of their student lifestyle document. It matters not, silence and appeasement is the majority response in Canada and Britain.
In light of the D-Day commemorations then, we have every reason to ask, would the Britain of today be able to stand strong as we did at Normandy 75 years ago? Would national faith and courage manifest itself to resist tyranny, evil and godlessness in our generation? I think not. Courage is the flower of conviction. A people and church that firmly believes in nothing will fight for precisely that!
Back in the 1930s and ‘40s we still had the lion heart, not just lions on our soccer jerseys. We were still sufficiently committed to certain core convictions that when confronted with being overwhelmed by oppression and evil we found metal in our veins and a strong backbone in our frame. Following a bitter and protracted struggle alone against the Axis powers, from Norway to North Africa, southern France to Singapore, the British Commonwealth was joined by America in the war after Japanese treachery at Pearl Harbour. Then on 6 June 1944, D-Day finally came; a day when millions knelt for prayer in churches on both sides of the Atlantic as the allies landed on the beaches of Normandy marking the beginning of the end of the War in Europe. Veterans have described the landing as ‘hell on earth.’ There were ten thousand casualties that day as brave and courageous men jumped into the water from landing craft into a hail of bullets and shrapnel for the defence of freedom and what Churchill called the survival of Christian civilisation.
The period of World War II is obviously remarkable from many perspectives, including the types of leaders prominent at both the beginning and end of the deadly conflagration. Cultural conflict is always an occasion for good, bad and incompetent leadership to emerge, most leaders making their share of mistakes. The war-strewn history of Israel in the Bible is no exception and many noted allied commanders in WWII (including British general Montgomery) spent time reading as well as quoting the accounts and prayers of great military leaders in the Bible to their troops.
The appeasement stratagem of Chamberlain and his weak leadership in the gathering storm of war is well known. The life and presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt – especially as manifest during the closing stages of WWII – is less known or understood in regard to the compromises he was also ready to make. Roosevelt, an astute and eloquent man, with every advantage in life educationally and in terms of his family background, had high political ambitions. He also professed a Christian faith. He had witnessed the demise of a man he greatly admired, president Woodrow Wilson, and the collapse of his vision for a “League of Nations” to build a new world order that would forever prevent war. As the League totally failed, so did Wilson’s health. Roosevelt was determined to do better and not go down that way in either failure or sickness. But FDR, though in many respects a remarkable and great man overcoming a debilitating and career-threatening attack of polio to become president, had serious character flaws. Because of his personal ambitions, Roosevelt’s political strategy was one of ‘divide and conquer,’ and he employed it effectively throughout his career to pursue his particular vision. The New Deal president Roosevelt dreamt of creating a lasting ‘new world order’ and he believed that he could bring Stalin himself and the communists as a whole into a big happy family of nations (the United Nations), that would cooperate together – a replacement for the ineffectual League of Nations.
Instead of sense prevailing in light of Scripture – given the reality of sin, and the salvation for nations provided only in Jesus Christ – he naively, and with ambitions for his own place in the world and history books, pitted Churchill and Stalin against each other (divide and conquer). In the summits between the three men, he essentially betrayed Churchill and largely took the side of Stalin, allowing Poland and most of Eastern Europe to fall into the hands of an evil madman and a communist ideology that would subsequently kill 80 million people. Poland was given up and abandoned (with much of Eastern Europe and Hungary) and the Iron Curtain fell over Europe for decades bringing with it a Cold War – not the new world order Roosevelt thought he could establish, despite the Soviets joining the UN.
This act of appeasement toward the war’s end was in its own way as egregious as that of Chamberlain at the beginning. The Americans had come to join Britain in Europe as liberators, not as conquerors. After the war, the Americans went home. But Stalin stayed and the Soviet Union swept up much of Eastern Europe with a foothold as far west as East Berlin. Somehow Roosevelt really believed that Stalin had integrity, that he had the best interests of his people and the world at heart. In fact, he was blind to what Stalin represented.
The point is that in both cases, that of both Chamberlain and Roosevelt, compromise and appeasement was clothed in good intentions. It was done in the name of prudent strategy, necessary compromise, and above all peace. These were the good guys. But they failed to see what these ideologies and dictators truly represented, and their decisions had catastrophic consequences for millions.
There is a lesson for the believer here. It is possible to be a professing Christian and ostensibly on the right side of the conflict, yet be blind to the nature of the struggle and the seriousness of our cultural moment. We can fail to understand the times in light of God’s Word and despite a foreboding cloud of darkness, be saying, ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace (Ezek. 13:10). Much of the church today, with many of its leaders, is saying ‘peace in our time.’ It is a delusion. The ideologies confronting the church in our generation are taking no prisoners. Appeasers can and often do become collaborators, and before you know it, are fighting against the very people they are meant to be allied with. Scripture commands, ‘In understanding be men’ (1 Cor. 14:20). The men of Issachar were men who ‘understood the times and knew what Israel should do’ (1 Chron. 12:32). It is time for evangelical leaders to wake up, man up, and guide God’s people in what they should do.
History has smiled with gratitude on the heroes of Normandy. How will history judge the church of our generation in a time of cultural conflict? In the D-Day of the Western church, what will be God’s verdict?