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Anglican Church needs refresher course in Christianity

Making things even worse by indicating they have no understanding of Christianity and its relationship to Britain's common law, the Anglican Church stepped in to defend the Archbishop of Canterbury after he faced fresh criticism from MPs, Muslim leaders and rights activists over his comments that the adoption of parts of sharia law in Britain was "unavoidable".

Dr Williams has "sought to carefully explore the limits of a unitary and secular legal system in the presence of an increasingly plural society", said the Church in a memorandum to MPs.

Common law is indeed unitary, that is, it is one body of law for all, whether they are Christians, the adherents of another faith, or non-believers, but it is not a “secular” law. It was founded on Judaeo-Christian principles and created by Christians for practical and spiritual reasons. (As a friend of ours recently observed, the practical reasons included not wanting to be strung up for poaching the king's deer.)

The creators of common law included Alfred the Great; Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the bishops, abbots and knights who defied John to make sure that justice would be established in Magna Carta; John Pecham, Archbishop of Canterbury, who defended Magna Carta at the end of the 13th century; John Lambert who died for the right to silence and John Lilburne who endured whipping and pillory to defend the same right; William Penn and hundreds of other Christians who defended freedom of religious conscience with their lives until it became part of British common law; William Bushell, who went to prison rather than give up the right of juries to decide guilt or innocence freely; and those Christian knights and bishops who in AD 1100 forced Henry I to sign the Charter of Liberties and to pledge that no one, not even the king, would be above or beyond the law, a bedrock principle that this Archbishop does not even know he is standing on, though millions of people in the world hope to see it established in their unhappy countries.

Common law has its roots in Celtic, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon laws, but it rose to its grandeur as the protector of the innocent and the righter of wrongs from its source among Christians, who fought for the rights of every person under the law. It took years to establish that common law was free of the Church, but it was never merely secular though it has a genius for dealing with secular concerns.

British Christians were an intensely practical people. Common law worked. It sorted out property disputes as well as civil rights. It was created to protect individuals, and it contributes to the prosperity of Britain, Canada, the United States, and Australia.

Perhaps the Anglican Church will take a refresher course in its own Christian history.