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Did anyone notice? He said ‘love’

25 April 2014

DAVID CAMERON's article for last week's Church Times was, in one sense, unremarkable. Most past prime ministers have shared the faith that has informed the political class down the ages, manifested in either Anglican Toryism or Free Church Socialism. Exotic Continental brands such as fascism or Communism have never taken well on British soil. Responses to the article in some quarters have been fierce, however. Part of the Church has been suspicious of the Prime Minister's motives. And in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, 55 non-Christians ignored Mr Cameron's caveats and took exception to his appropriation, on the Church's behalf, of virtues that they say are universal.

Mr Cameron's list of the components of national Christianity - "responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love" - was pretty comprehensive. The fact that it is hard to gainsay makes it more, not less, offensive to secularists. He was defended from an unlikely corner: Jack Straw told the BBC: "There has to be a clear understanding that this is the UK and there are a set of values, some of which I would say to the letter writers to The Daily Telegraph are indeed Christian-based, whether they like it or not, which permeate our sense of citizenship." The secularist response has been to cast such sentiments as these as special pleading. This must not be the case. Our readers know the attendance statistics as well as anyone. The Church is still a force to be reckoned with, but the country's welfare is too great an issue, and its problems are too intractable, to be the subject of philanthropic rivalry. The Church must earn its right to a public hearing, like any other institution. Its influence depends on alliances made for the common good, even with those in the Conservative Party.

Mr Cameron used the word "evangelical". There is a fear that the values listed by Mr Cameron will wither if hacked from the vine of Christianity which gave them life. The "evangelical" impulse is more sophisticated than this, however. Christian believers know how impossible it is to respond to Christ's call to be perfect without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This impulse can, however, warp into something less humble: the mistaken conception that the God of love cannot work through people who do not acknowledged Christ as Lord. Secularists are rightly offended when they feel their good works are dismissed by a set of people some of whom display less than admirable qualities. Once again, this must not be the case.

Mr Cameron also used the word "love". This has been overlooked in the arguments about the rest of his article. Perhaps Christians take it for granted ( Letters). We would argue that to have a Prime Minister using as his watchwords "compassion, humility, and love" has great significance. If these are the words by which the Government is willing to be judged, the Church has something to work on, and somebody to work with.

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