In this blog I'll explain the thinking behind the new 'St George 4 All' statement, signed by multiple faith groups to "reclaim" England's national saint.
An article in the Daily Telegraph for St George's Day last year had the headline: 'St George's flag is a racist symbol says a quarter of the English'. We can be encouraged that it is only a quarter, though this is still a large percentage. As an illustration - I have just bought a St George's flag for our St George's Day photo-shoot. One of our supporters from the Christian Muslim Forum was very keen that I didn't leave it lying around as it reminded her of racist attitudes. She could hardly bear to look at it.
The report from British Future, 'This Sceptred Isle', which The Telegraph article refers to, blames "extreme street hooligans of the English Defence League" for "toxifying" the St George's Cross. It also talks about the failure of politicians to "speak up for the inclusive patriotism of the English majority."
We have some identity issues and we have problems with diversity. And as a society we contribute to these anxieties. We tell people that they don't fit in, that they don't belong here, even if they were born in England. But national figures are rallying points and are there for everyone. Until the end of last year the Archbishop of Canterbury, a key figure in the life of the English national church, was a Welsh-speaker born in Wales. The 'Queen of England', as American friends call her, can trace her origins to Germany and other places. Our country has been populated by waves of immigration from the Roman Empire, France, Denmark, Commonwealth countries, etc. Our citizens are global. Even our patron saint is Greek.
Yet the far right attempt to turn our history into a rallying call for 'Englishness', and use a flag associated with a man known mostly for his honour into a racist symbol. We are not always tolerant but our mixed history and diverse population tell us that we should be inclusive. There is no point in the far right campaigning for 'Englishness' if they deny it to any of those who have adopted an English identity, or who are 'different' but were born in England. It is self-destructive. Instead of cutting people off we should be celebrating their inclusion in our great country.
So this St George's Day we - 22 very different faith organisations, plus anti-racist groups - are reclaiming St George, plus people of different ethnicities and different religions (even the Welsh!). St George does not belong to extremists. As 'This Sceptred Isle' points out: "The danger of doing nothing to celebrate St George is that he will be commandeered by extremists who purport to be the last English patriots".
I could close by saying that it's time for us all to get comfortable with each other - but of course, we already are. It's only the extremists who want to say that we don't all belong together and they must be one of the smallest minorities out there! For all their protesting they are the ones who don't belong, who are not part of modern England, who are not 'playing the game'.
So yes, we are a diverse collection of patriots with a message that St George is for everyone.