Don't condemn Cameron's claim to Christianity
Apparently, No10 had no intention of releasing a transcript of the Prime Minister's speech to Christian leaders last week: unlike other faith gatherings, it was an impromptu declamation, spoken spontaneously from the heart, and some there felt that the content didn't merit courtly promulgation, not least because it wasn't honed, crafted or filtered by aides to extinguish any hint of offence.
But His Grace agitated and agitated, and the oration was made public. And it was seen that the Prime Minister spoke intimately of the loss of his son, Ivan; and of his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land; and of his quiet times in church; and of the need for Christians to do more "evangelism". He is a politician; not a theologian: his words were those of a layman, but no less sincere for that.
And then he released an article in the Church Times - My Faith in the Church of England - in which he demanded the right to speak about his faith "in this ever more secular age". And he dared to refer to the United Kingdom as a "Christian country", and again called for Christians to be "more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives".
And all hell broke loose.
Some 50 self-important secular-humanising bigwigs wrote to the Telegraph, accusing the Prime Minister of "fostering division" by daring to invoke Christianity: "Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a 'Christian country'," they declared.
Fostering division? As Bishop Nick Baines has eloquently observed, that is the very nature of politics:
First, if politicians were to refrain from saying anything ‘divisive’, they would be silent. Any stated viewpoint or priority is by definition ‘divisive’ as there will always be people who strongly disagree. The use of potential ‘divisiveness’ as a charge against anything inconvenient is ridiculous. Presumably, the divisiveness caused by publishing this letter is to be excused?And Jesus Himself said:
Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:But the liberal enlightened media set aside such reasoned christological inquiry: who is Bishop Nick Baines? And who, indeed, is Jesus?
For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.
The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
In candid disinterested neutrality, Sky News wheeled out the ubiquitous anti-Tory atheist Owen Jones to debate with the equally anti-Tory Christian Vicky Beeching to weigh up the Christian claims of a Conservative prime minister, and in unison they both railed against the "cuts" and the "bedroom tax", neither of which (apparently) Jesus would support. Was there no Christian Tory available, or were they simply not telegenic and pretty enough for the TV studio?
And then on Channel 4, Vicky Beeching (..again..) stressed "as a theologian", that she looks at David Cameron's policies and looks at his claims and, for her, they "don't add up".
Well, "as a theologian", His Grace would exhort his readers and communicants to weigh very carefully indeed the utterances of any theologian who prefaces a partisan pontification with "as a theologian", for their theology is invariably cajoled to pander to their politics. In the Christian mind, the Bible precedes all matters of polity and questions of policy, and any assessment or judgment is offered in humility. The fact that the welfare reforms are designed and being implemented by one of the most devout Christians in Government appears to escape Miss Beeching. But then she speaks "as a theologian": what could Iain Duncan Smith possibly know?
Alastair Campbell famously didn't "do God", or, rather, didn't allow Tony Blair to "do God" while he was in office. Like Owen Jones and Vicky Beeching, he is persuaded that the Prime Minister's "religious ramblings" are "insincere".
And you may very well agree with that: after all, an election looms, and Ukip is biting at Tory heels.
But is it not possible that David Cameron's faith is maturing? Is it not conceivable that he is moving from a faith of watery milk to red meat? Is it not imaginable that the death of his son caused such a crisis in his spiritual life that he is journeying to that place where God leads, and in that presence the melancholy façade of religiosity is giving way to authentic renewal and regeneration?
You may agree with Alastair Campbell and the socialist-atheists and the secular-humanists and the liberal-lefty Christians that David Cameron is a PR-obsessed political fraud. But doesn't St Paul exhort us to welcome even the half-way conversion from neo-platonic spiritualism toward Christianity? Shouldn't we rejoice over the sinner who moves from infidelity to orthodoxy? Isn't it an act of Christian love and humility to (at least) consider that David Cameron has subconsciously incubated the seeds of faith, and that now he finds new strength and boldness to declare the gospel of salvation?
You may quibble that he hasn't used the word 'repent'; you may mutter that he doesn't have a clue what 'evangelical' means. You may deride the motive or question the timing. But David Cameron has received grace and gained assurance. And now he seeks to bring about a moral change, which his opponents condemn as "divisive".
You may side with spin-meister Alastair Campbell, atheist Owen Jones and theologian Vicky Beeching and judge the sincerity of the Prime Minister's faith. But His Grace will look to Scripture: "Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters" (Rom 14:1). His conscience may not be overly sensitive, but it is not to be condemned. We are exhorted and encouraged to accept other Christians wherever they are in their pilgrimage of faith; however imperfect their learning; however flawed their understanding.
And that includes a Tory prime minister.