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15 June 2015

Magna Carta anniversary: remembering the Church's contribution

Magna Carta anniversary: remembering the Church's contribution

Today is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and Christians are being reminded about the important role the Church played in ensuring these liberties.

The historic document is credited for shaping the development of human rights, equality and democracy, with Barack Obama recently saying it was the "first laid out the liberties of man."

But the role that leaders of the Church played in its formation has been forgotten by many.

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "It was the Church that wrote it. More specifically, it's highly likely that it was the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. Once exiled by King John – the truly awful king who was forced to sign Magna Carta – Langton was a theological genius with a particular interest in what the book of Deuteronomy had to say about equality before the law, even for kings.

"This was pretty radical thinking for the time, but imagine how it sounded to Moses and the Israelites. To the bishops gathered at Runnymede in 1215, the signing of Magna Carta represented nothing less than the culmination of a centuries-long war between the pagan and the Christian concepts of law and power."

Dr Landrum says there is "cultural amnesia" in recognising this, however, with even the British Library's exhibition giving little credit to the involvement of faith.

Politicians are now considering the creation of a British Bill of Rights and a written constitution, and the Evangelical Alliance has conducted a survey into British values, which would shape these documents.

The prime minister David Cameron said: "It is our duty to safeguard the legacy, the idea, the momentous achievement of those barons. And there couldn't be a better time to reaffirm that commitment than on an anniversary like this."

But Dr Landrum added that it was vital the Christian principles that shaped this country are remembered: "As we celebrate the Magna Carta, let's remember that historical truth is important, and the biblical source of our human rights is worth contending for."

The think-tank Theos has released a report into the "forgotten Christian contributions", called Church and the Charter. You can download the report here.

The results of the British values research will be launched in the September/October edition of idea magazine.