Address at a Celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Independence of Pakistan
Huddersfield Parish Church, 4th September 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Honoured Guests, dear friends, it is a privilege and a pleasure for me to give the address on this important occasion.
The founding of a new nation is a great event in the history of the world and its peoples. As St Paul said in our Bible reading, nations and the authorities which govern them are one of the ways in which God has provided for the good ordering of human life, for the sake of all the peoples of the earth.
The founding of the state of Pakistan represented a new beginning for its peoples, following the gaining of independence seventy years ago. Of course, we must acknowledge the upheaval and even tragedy that this process brought to millions of people across the new nations of India and Pakistan, but at the same time these were part of the birth-pangs of a new order that was coming into being across the world, with the ending of British and European colonial rule in many places.
We have been invited to this evening’s celebration by members of the Asian Christian community here in Huddersfield, for which we thank them warmly. As Christians, we have a particular perspective on our relationship to the nation states in which we live. That perspective is shaped by two priorities which are rooted in the teaching of the Bible.
The first is the one of which we read this evening, namely that the authorities under whom we live in our nations are instituted by God and therefore deserving of our respect and loyalty. St Paul urges the Christians in Rome to be good citizens, loyal to the authorities under whom they live. As Christians we are to do all we can to support the common life of the nations in which we live, for that is part of our calling under God.
But of course as Christians, we are also citizens of another kingdom, that of the kingdom of God, and Jesus himself reminds us that we are to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. That is a challenge that will resonate with people of other faiths, for whom loyalty to God may at times bring them into tension with the demands of the state. The dmSometimes for reasons to do with our faith we may find ourselves disagreeing with what the state is saying or doing.
This is a difficult question for us in today’s world and I believe there are two main things that we – and the states in which we live – must always remember. The first is that the state should allow people the freedom to choose whom they will worship – there should be no compulsion in matters of religion, for faith is a matter between our souls and the God who created us. In this and every nation, the authorities should preserve the right of its citizens to worship as they choose.
And the second is the deep truth of which St Paul spoke at the end of our reading – “whatever commandment there may be is summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself”.… (for) love is the fulfilment of the law.” That surely means that even when we disagree with one another, or even with the state in which we live, then we should always do so in a way that accords with the higher law of love.
These two things – our duty to love God before all other things and our duty to love our neighbour as ourselves – are at the heart of the Christian faith and at the heart of what it means to be good citizens both of the kingdom of God and of the nations of this world, whether that be Pakistan or the United Kingdom.
So may God’s blessing be upon the nations of Pakistan and of the United Kingdom, and may both flourish as places of righteousness and peace today and always. Amen.
The Rt Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs
Bishop of Huddersfield