*** DEBUG END ***

The Prime Minister (and his critics) on Christianity in the life of the nation

25 April 2014


From the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy

Sir, - Since the Prime Minister is so misinformed as to think that Christian values consist of "responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love" (Comment, 17 April), isn't it the duty of church leaders to put him right?

The last four are apple pie: nobody would disagree with them. Treating hard work as a value is his ideology, based on the capitalist theory that nature is mean with resources, and so hard work needs to make up for it. On this basis, his Government pushes the unemployed into ever more desperate poverty.

Christianity, like all the great world faiths, teaches that nature provides abundantly, and the statistics support it. There is a proper but limited place for work. Our wealth is created not by the economy but by God, who gives generously. Rather than talk ourselves up as hard workers who deserve our incomes, and then scapegoat the unemployed, we should receive God's gifts with humble thanks and express our gratitude by using themin the manner intended: that is, by making sure everybody's needs are met.

Our Prime Minister needs to be reminded that, like everybody else, he has been a benefits recipient since the day he was born.

Editor, Modern Believing
9 Westward View
Liverpool L17 7EE

From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, - The Prime Minister's good experience of the pastoral ministry of a parish priest in a time of grief is as it should be, and this is available to every resident of UK parishes. The difficult part of Christianity, which he confesses to being a bit vague about, applies when he is in his office at 10 Downing Street. It is summed up in the sentence: "Christ made real in his own life, and inhis crucifixion by the State, God's solidarity with the cause of poor people." Most of the rulers of his time also found that difficult to stomach. In these days, it is the unrestrained "invisible" hand of market capitalism which holds the hammer.

People become hungry in the UK because governments since 1979 have either allowed it to happen, or accelerated the process, by deregulating lending, abolishing rent controls, and allowing the free flow of capital in and out of the UK. The consequence is that more and more overseas capital pours into a UK housing market in short supply, so increasing rents and prices for citizens who need a home.

Since April 2013, an increasing number of poor tenants cannot pay increasing rents or council tax out of their benefits and at the same time buy food, clothes for growing children, cook the food, and warm their homes, let alone pay the court and bailiff enforcement costs of inevitable rent and council-tax arrears.

No British government has cared enough to curb the injustice of escalating inequalities of income and wealth to allow us to enforce in the courts Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment. . ."

When some Christians lobby Parliament, we are working in solidarity and partnership with the poorest citizens of the UK and their supporters of all faiths and of none, but not for any politicians or political party. Your headline "Mr Cameron reaffirms partnership with the Church" (News, 17 April) compromises that commitment.

Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

From Mr Stephen Sampford

Sir, - What does Mr David Cameron understand by the word "faith" (Comment, 17 April) in the context of being a follower of Jesus Christ's example, I wonder. Heuses the word 15 times in his own "classic Christian" context.

During last year's Christmas celebrations and one of the sermons that I listened to then, the Vicar said: "Tonight, in Wycombe, one in three children will go to bed hungry tonight. . ." She continued: "I find that shocking." So did I. In fact, I may even have been shocked to discover the news that just one child was going to his or her bed hungry.

Mr Cameron spent much of his article defining his vision of just where the Church of England's responsibilities might fit into his Big Society, the implication being that the Church of England should more closely align itself with his Government's policies and perhaps refrain from some of its more uncomfortable criticisms of them. He brought gifts, too, of £28 million - from a cash-strapped economy - to update our property portfolio and approved good works.

I pray wisdom for the leaders of my Church in responding to this challenge by the Prime Minister. He has thrown down a very significant gauntlet: that of open debate with him on his Government's performance in our society to date.

I am reminded of Thessalonians 2.4-6: "But just as we have been approved by God to be trusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God, who tests our hearts."

324b Micklefield Road
High Wycombe HP13 7HX

From Mr Neal Terry

Sir, - I trust that Messrs Milliband, Clegg, and Farage will in fairnessbe permitted use of your pages for party-political broadcast soon.

4 Sandpiper Place, Longbenton
Newcastle upon Tyne NE12 8PE

From Mr Benedict Atkins

Sir, - If I may be granted the grace to take myself perhaps too seriously for a moment, I find Mr Cameron's statement deeply troubling: "I am a member of the Church of England, and, I suspect, a rather classic one: not that regular in attendance, anda bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith."

If he is correct, and this is a "classic" picture of a member of the Church of England, then I consider the need to ask myself - and my brothers and sisters within this family - some urgent questions.

Has the Church of England stopped following Jesus and the narrow road of holiness which only his grace can give us entry to? Committing ourselves to a church family and submitting our lives within the body of Christ is an inseparable part of being Christian. There is no gospel without it; for through these means the Lord has determined that we be identified as his children and ministers of his grace to the world without.

Second, Jesus is the founder and the finisher of our faith. Many of his teachings were difficult, and yet my struggle is not primarily in misunderstanding them, but in disobeying them.

Some of his teachings are more palatable, easily corresponding with the agenda of most governments. To this extent, a government will call on Jesus's name to rally his people. Much of his teaching, however, was far less palatable, and at odds with the agenda of the Government. To this extent, the Government will not endorse, condone, or praise the Church. Show me a government that submits to Christ's agenda, and I will show you a government that can use his name in its own.

And as for us, the Bride, let us remember who our husband is.

248C Devons Road
London E3 3PN

From the Revd Dr Nigel Scotland

Sir, - Whether or not we agree with Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Philip Pullman, Sir Terry Pratchett, and others who wrote (in response to Mr Cameron's comments) to The Daily Telegraph this week that Britain is a plural society in terms of its beliefs, the facts are that the fabric of British society is undoubtedly Christian.

We have a Christian flag that consists of three Christian crosses superimposed on one another. The Union flag flies on our public buildings and shipping, and the Union emblem appears in countless places from aircraft and national exports to tourist guides. We still honour the great Christian holy days of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter Day with national public holidays. We are ruled over by a Protestant Christian King or Queen. Our rulers are crowned in a Christian ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

We have a state Church over which our Christian monarch presides as Supreme Governor. We have a Christian National Anthem that is sung vigorously at international matches, sports meetings, and many other public occasions. C of E bishops sit unelected in the House of Lords. Parliamentary business and local-government meetings begin with Christian prayers. Great state occasions are marked by public Christian ceremonies.

Our hospital, prisons, and armed forces all have Christian chaplaincies, many of them funded by the State. A very large number of our primary schools are church controlled or aided, and maintain a Christian ethos with Christian assemblies. A significant number of our historic grammar schools, and some of our academies, have a strong Christian ethos. Our great public schools maintain their Christian foundations and practise the Christian faith overtly.

Many of our great universities, among them Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham, have Christian foundations that they still honour through their chaplaincies and regular worship. The majority of this nation's statute laws are still rooted in the Christian tradition. In our law courts, the oath is still sworn on the Bible.

The great majority of UK citizens still believe in the Christian ideal of marriage, and they still hold to the Ten Commandments, and believe that the teachings of Jesus are the best that have yet been offered to the human race. The values held by most UK citizens are distilled from the Christian tradition.

It is well-known that people who cease to attend public worship do not necessarily surrender their Christian beliefs. Indeed, surveys have shown that many people who do not belong to a recognised denominational Christian Church nevertheless hold Christian values and still pray Christian prayers. Most British people still choose to have some form of Christian burial.

British architecture is still manifestly dominated by Christian buildings, including more than 60 great cathedrals and many thousands of churches, chapels, and Christian meeting places. Many Muslims and people of other faiths and none still believe the fabric of this nation to be substantially Christian, and have settled here for that reason. So David Cameron is surely right to claim that Britain is a Christian nation.

Hon. Research Fellow, University of Gloucestershire, and Tutor, Trinity College, Bristol
8 The Rowans, Woodmancote
Cheltenham, Glos GL52 9RL

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)