Standing with love and courage
Snow falls according to natural principles. Christ described principles of love which would allow a person and a people to rise and stand and live. How did Brits establish and defend those principles in community and what do they mean to you? A few examples -
New standards for leadership
“You know that the leaders of nations dominate their people and exercise tyrannical rule over them,” Jesus said. “That's how it is in the world. But that isn't how it must be with you. Whoever would be great among you, let that person serve you; and whoever would be your leader, let that person minister to your needs." (Mark 10:42-44)
The result of this organizing principle can be clearly seen in St Dunstan's creation in AD 973 of a Coronation Ceremony and Coronation Oath that affirmed the Sovereign was a servant to his or her people and the defender of what was right, just and merciful. In subsequent centuries, Brits depose kings who break their oaths.
A principle of justice for today
In 1100 knights and bishops forced Henry I to sign the Charter of Liberties, establishing that no one, not even the king, was above the law. A remarkable principle, still missing in many parts of the world in the 21st century.
Ending a most repugnant trade
In 1102, St Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his fellow brothers and priests ended slavery in England at the Council of Westminster.
Christians helped poor children like Robert Grosseteste to go to school and built Oxford and Cambridge universities. In subsequent centuries they would establish thousands of charities devoted to helping children and those in need, rescuing the victims of shipwrecks, supporting artists, protecting animals, restoring streams. . .
Magna Carta in the field
After fifteen years of oppression under King John, bishops, knights and townspeople finally rose up against him and forced him to agree that "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice". A few months after the big meeting at Runnymede, they had to defend Magna Carta on the battlefield.
Rights we don't need?
Christians remembered how Jesus had been held without charge, presumed guilty and sentenced without trial. In creating the Common Law they insisted on our rights to habeas corpus, presumption of innocence and trial by jury. These do not seem like rights that law-abiding people need, but they are rights that keep government from becoming oppressive.
For a thousand years Brits have tried with some success to make and keep Common Law fair. When failure occurred, there was always someone who protested, and tried to right the wrong.
In 1265, the British community included Bishop Robert Grosseteste’s friend, Simon de Montfort. An arrogant man, but sincerely opposed to tyranny, Montfort and the bachelors of England established the first Parliament, and in 1265 willingly died to defend it.
Dying in your defence
In the 16th century Robert Kett died defending the people's ancient right to common land. This may not seem to be our cause, but our common right to share public roads and parks and airwaves is fundamental to our lives today.
John Lambert fought for the right to silence, which is also the right not to incriminate ourselves and not to be tortured in an effort to make us confess to false charges. He refused to answer questions about his Christian faith and was burned at the stake in 1538.
17th century defiance
In the 17th century, John and Elizabeth Lilburne also fought for the right to silence, and helped to abolish the Star Chamber. They advocated for equal rights for women, freedom of religion and a parliament that represented the people. They were repeatedly imprisoned. They were never paid for their work.
In 1670, William Penn and his jurors fought for freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion and the right of juries to find a law unjust and declare a man innocent.
The success of the Lilburnes and Penn would become real in the 1688/1689 British Bill of Rights and the 1791 American Bill of Rights.
Infamy encircled them
In the 18th and 19th centuries, British Christians had to fight once again to keep slavery out of England, then work 40 years to end both the trade in slaves and slavery in the British Empire. They reformed work laws to protect children and passed legislation to protect animals from cruelty.
Your organizing principles?
Christian Brits believed in the organizing principle that God gave each of us dignity and freedom. They had to stand with all their courage, love and faith against those who were brutal, greedy and powerful.
The two of us can marvel at how long it took them to get things right, as long as we don't forget how long it takes us to right a wrong. What organizing principles do you follow today?
This post was published last year. It was revised today.