A LECTURE by the Prime Minister in defence of Britain as a Christian country has been broadly welcomed.
In a speech to Oxford clergy in Christ Church, Oxford, last Friday, David Cameron argued against the trend towards a neutral, secularist culture. “The Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.
“The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.”
Among the moral values that he praised was universal equality: “When every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God, we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights, a foundation that has seen the Bible at the forefront of the emergence of democracy, the abolition of slavery, and the emancipation of women — even if not every Church has always got the point!”
The effect of these values was to create a tolerant society: “Those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths simply don’t understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity. Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France. Why? Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths, too.”
Mr Cameron listed other values that he defined as Christian: “responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love, pride in working for the common good, and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities”.
It was not enough, though, merely to be tolerant of others, he said, and repeated a remark first made in February: “Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values.
“But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. We need to stand up for these values. Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that. . . We should all stand up and defend them.”
Mr Cameron concluded by encouraging the Church to be involved in this defence. “I believe the Church — and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain — have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this. I have never really understood the argument some people make about the Church not getting involved in politics.
“To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church, and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics, because so many political questions are moral questions. So I don’t think we should be shy or frightened of this.”
He included Dr Williams in this: “I certainly don’t object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics. Religion has a moral basis, and if he doesn’t agree with something, he’s right to say so.”
But he warned: “He shouldn’t be surprised when I respond. Also, it’s legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance. I believe the Church of England has a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our communities. But, to do so, it must keep on the agenda that speaks to the whole country.”
Responding to the lecture, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, said: “There was no doubting the Prime Minister’s conviction that if you don’t stand for something, you can’t stand against anything. This is what the Churches have always said to the nation, and it was good to have this support from the heart of political life.
“The Prime Minister . . . affirmed the crucial role of the Church in both serving and shaping society. He demonstrated clearly that the generosity, compassion, and desire for social justice which lies at the heart of the Christian faith, and of other faiths, is both a gift and a responsibility. We gladly take up the challenge.”
The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, awarded Mr Cameron “two cheers for a brave and serious speech”. He did, though, “wince a little” at Mr Cameron’s conclusion. And he questioned a speech that dwelt on the resonance of the King James Bible without tackling its content.
The full speech
The full speech
Question of the week: Do you agree with Mr Cameron that Britain is a Christian country?