This is something I wrote about two years ago and found it on my computer this week. John Benton, Evangelicals Now’s editor, had written a pice claiming that devolution and secularization were almost synonymous. He said that when Britain was great it was a Christian island and he strongly hints that devolution is not a thing a Christian should support. I wrote a letter in reply to his pice but it never got published. So here it is…
First of all let me introduce myself. My name is Rhys Llwyd and I’m a Welsh speaking Evangelical Christian from Aberystwyth, West Wales. I graduated from the International Politics Department at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth specialising in theories of nationalism. I’m currently hold the R. Tudur Jones research scholarship at University of Wales, Bangor’s School of Theology researching into the historic connections between Christianity and nationalism in Wales. My conclusions to date confirm which has already been published in Wales on the subject, and differ and contradict totally your view point as expressed in your editorial ‘Break-up of Britain?’ (June 2007). Please allow me to elaborate.
The first issue I must address is not really a theological issue. In your opening remark you used the phrase ‘…the fragmentation of our country’. I bought my copy of ‘Evangelicals Now’ in Wales and I consider that Wales is my country and not the United Kingdom – the UK is merely the sovereign state and a political union. It is not a nation but rather a collection of nations which include, amongst others, England and Wales. With respect, it can show a distinct lack of sensitivity and respect towards ones fellow Christian brothers in Wales, Scotland and Ireland to presume that ‘Britain’ is ‘our’ country. I respect that it may well be the Editor’s ‘country’, therefore a better phrased introduction to your editorial should read ‘…the fragmentation of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom, with includes the nations of England, Wales… etc’ You go on to question the economic arguments of Scottish and Welsh Nationalism. Although my field of study is theology and not economics, I should draw your attention to the fact that Scotland and Wales are both countries rich in natural resources which have had their economic growth stagnated in comparison with other similar sized and resourced independent countries such as Denmark and Norway.
Please allow me now to address the theological and philosophical generalisations of your editorial. I understand that the general thrust of your argument is that Nationalism, as seen in the UK today, is a product of Modernism, even Post-modernism. I agree that some forms of Nationalism, even some Welsh Nationalists, are products of modernist philosophy but you are incorrect in your generalisation. R. Tudur Jones was a Welsh Nationalist and an Evangelical Protestant Christian. He was one of the most important Christian scholars in Wales during the 20th century and is hailed as the giant of Protestantism in Wales during a century that saw Wales, as a whole, turn against its traditional Reformed Protestant theology. R. Tudur Jones held that there are two basic sources of Nationalism, the Hegelian and the Calvinistic. In the former, the nation held a vocation on the world stage. However, there appears to be nothing beyond the nation which can offer a critique of the state. The danger inherent in such nationalism is that it will create an idol of the state, as it did in Nazi Germany, for example. (This is what Schaeffer warned us about, as you correctly noted) For the Calvinist, the state is always subordinate to the sovereignty of God: it can never become an idol and it is continuously subject to critique.
Finally I wish to address the issue of ‘fragmentation’ of the UK. A better word to use would be ‘plurality’ which, from my interpretation of New Testament Scripture is not un-Biblical. Plurality, or unity in diversity, is one of the big themes of the new covenant. One must remember that Jesus was a member of the Jewish nation and race by virtue of his birth and upbringing, and was immersed in Jewish culture. Never did Jesus renounce his nationality. According to his own admission, Jesus came to the nation of Israel first, comparing the people of Israel to children and the Gentiles to dogs (Matthew 15:24-28). Jesus recognised distinct national boundaries between the people of Israel and all other peoples, who were classified together as non-Jews or Gentiles, and whereas his mission was to all the peoples of the earth, he was very clear that his first concern was for his own people, the Jews. So in Jesus we see a vindication of the existence of nations as separate entities. He himself was very much a citizen of his own nation, and was loyal to his people.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2) and the accompanying miracle of “speaking in other tongues” could be seen as God finally undoing the “curse of Babel”. However, Professor R.M. Jones (another Welsh Evangelical scholar) has a different perspective in his paper ‘Language in God’s Economy: A Welsh and International Perspective’ (1994): “The linguistic crux at Pentecost is that diversity, in the world of the Spirit, is not reversed. It is indeed, in its own way, repeated. What is reversed is mutual incomprehension. Language therefore remains quite happily a factor in the variety of peoples.” The occurrence at Pentecost did not cause all people to speak the same language, which is what the undoing of the confusion of tongues at Babel would have entailed.
Like Jesus, the apostle Paul never renounced his nationality. In fact, he boasted of it (Romans 9:3-5, 11:1). If Paul took such pride in his nationality, how can we reconcile this with Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:28, where he writes: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”? This verse has been used by many to argue that the distinction between Jew and Gentile has been removed and that now both are the same, thereby denying the importance of the nation as a separate entity. However, this verse also refers to male and female, slave and free. Though these are equal in the sense that neither has priority in God’s sight, the physical differences still remain. Men and women are not the same, though they have equal priority in the Kingdom of God. In the same way, Jews and Gentiles are not the same. The national differences remain. Therefore this verse should not be used to argue against the validity of separate nations.
The book of Revelation hints that the grouping of humanity into separate nations is not confined to the present order, but will continue for eternity. Revelation 21:24, 26 says of the New Jerusalem: “The nations shall walk by its light… The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.” The various nations and cultures which make up the rich diversity of humanity will have a place in God’s kingdom. It seems, then, that both the Old and New Testaments justify the existence of nations as a God-ordained part of human existence.
In my view everyone, subconsciously, is a nationalist. Your nation is like your toes – everyone has toes but you don’t give them a second thought until someone steps on them. When someone treads on your toes you don’t think of anything else! Needless to say that is what we have seen in Wales and Scotland recently and ironically I hear a whisper of ‘don’t tread on my toes’ in your editorial. Welsh nationalism is deep rooted in Wales’ Calvinistic heritage – although secularised in practice today its adherents’ principles are still Christian based and not modernist or post-modernist.
I hope this letter will present you with a new perspective of nationalism and show you that ‘our country’ will mean different things to different Christians living within the nations of the British Isles. May I suggest that you read R. Tudur Jones’s ‘The Desire of Nations’ (Christopher Davies, 1974) and Dewi Arwel Hughes’s ‘Castrating Culture’ (Paternoster, 2002) both give an Evangelical account of Welsh Christian Nationalism from ‘those who were there’ as it were. Another interesting piece on the subject of plurality and nationalism is ‘Uniformity: The Curse of Modern Life’ by Abraham Kuyper (English translation published in James D. Bratt: ‘Abraham Kuyper – A Centennial Reader’, Paternoster, 199
Your Englishness and Britishness and my Welshness should not undermine our unity in Christ. As the scripture tells us, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek… for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Your claim that we as Welsh people are seeking that which you as English people already have is a result of unbelief and secularisation: such statement is based on prejudice and not based on Scripture. I hope you will reconsider your stance towards the plurality of the nations of this island.
Yours in Christ,