I have to say that I greatly enjoyed the first speech, and I found myself agreeing with a huge amount of it. But then, I'm an opera singer and one of the things that makes us good at singing is having a great deal of space, in this cavity up here. But I did find myself wondering, really, whether the opening speech was to do with the relevance of the church, and Christianity. It was a very interesting critique but was it to do with the relevance?
A great deal of our argument will be concerning the fact that millions and millions throughout history have found Christianity totally relevant. In fact, just to show how much I agree with a great deal of what you said but not seeing it relevant to the subject, I want to quote Malcolm Muggeridge to start off with. Muggeridge says that the church is an institution with a history, a past and a future. It went on crusades, it set up an inquisition, it installed scandalous Popes and countenanced monstrous iniquities. Institutionally speaking, these are perfectly comprehensible, and even in earthly terms, excusable. As the mouthpiece of God on earth belonging not just to history but to everlasting truth, they are not to be defended. At least, not by me, and that's what Malcolm Muggeridge says in 'Something Beautiful for God'. And neither would I try to defend them.
But that is simply one side of the picture. The subject that we were given was '2000 years of Christianity - proud legacy or shady past?' And then, of course, there is the motion itself. And of course, it is both a proud legacy and a shady past, because it is human. It is to do with people. And as people we are fallible, we make terrible mistakes. Of course Christianity says there is another side to that because we can be redeemed from those mistakes.
But on the other side of the shady past, there are individuals who I'm very proud to be associated with. I think of people like Wilberforce. I think of people like Mother Teresa. I was recently in India and visited one of her homes, and it was one of the most exquisitely beautiful places that I've ever had the opportunity to be anywhere near. It was an amazing experience being part of that home. I think of people like Martin Luther King, of Nelson Mandela. Mandela writes in his autobiography of a time when he was questioned by two rather earnest southern Baptists as to whether he was a Christian. He says "I am a Christian". In fact, I've got quite an interesting little quote from Mandela. He talks of his time in prison in 'The Long Walk to Freedom'. One of the preachers who used to come, the Reverend Shapel, was unorthodox in one respect. He took a scientific approach to religion, and he says "I found this very appealing. Many people use science to debunk religion. But he enlisted science to bolster his beliefs." Mandela claims to be a Christian and it would seem, in some ways, is quite a conservative one.
Proud legacy, shady past - that's what we're looking at this evening. But the motion itself - Is Christianity going to be irrelevant in the future? Well I want to go right back to the beginning and the time when it all began. Israel at the time of the birth of Christianity was an absolute ferment of would-be Messianic leaders. It was very difficult for those who were living there at that time to discern who was going to be the one, if there was one, at that time. The early Christians were hauled before the council, and they were tested. And one of the Jewish leaders was called Gamaliel. He was a Pharisee and had these words to say concerning the situation of that time. There were those who were baying for their blood but this is what he said. "In this case, I tell you do not take any action against these men. Leave them alone. If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear. But if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God".