Prime Minister David Cameron caused something of a flap when he said that England was a “Christian country” and that the government should do more to promote Christianity.
His comments came at an Easter reception at 10 Downing Street on April 9th:
Now, look, there were 3 things that I wanted to say tonight about what I hope we can do more of in our country when it comes to Christianity. And as Eric Pickles said this week, we should be proud of the fact that we are a Christian country, and I am proud of the fact we’re a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say so. But I think the 3 things I want to focus on – and I hope we can all work on this – the first is to expand the role of faith and faith organisations in our country. This has been a consistent theme of this government; I’m sure there’s more we could do to help make it easier for faith organisations.
Cameron then wrote a piece in the Church Times “coming out” as strongly Church of England, even if he doesn’t attend church as much as he ought.
Giles Frasier reminded his readers that Christianity is more than being kind and nice:
I thank the Prime Minister for his words of support for Christians. Yet most politicians who speak of God look about as comfortable as my dad does break-dancing. Perhaps that is why Alastair Campbell advised Tony Blair so strongly against it.
Even Gordon Brown, son of the Manse, looked awkward when he was trying to sound pious. He too reached for this practical, moral aspect of Christianity when he came to recommend it: ‘Do to others what you would have them do unto you,’ he told the gathered faithful at St Paul’s Cathedral back in 2009.
Now there is nothing wrong with all of this – as far as it goes.
But here’s the problem: no-one was ever crucified for kindness. Jesus was not strung up on a hideous Roman instrument of torture because of his good deeds. If Jesus is just a remarkably good person whose example we ought to follow, why the need for the dark and difficult story of betrayal, death and resurrection that Christians will commemorate this week?
The English, of course, have always been a little bit awkward when it comes to full-throttle Christianity. Traditionally, we like the gentle and undemanding pace of Cathedral evensong and prefer the parish priest who visits the sick rather than the one who corners you and asks you if you have been saved.
Express.com reported that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby remarked that, if you look at attendance at worship one cannot call England “a Christian nation” even if you acknowledge the heritage and cultural contribution of the church to English society.
…Welby said: “It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of our society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society… all have been shaped by and founded on Christianity.”
He added: “It is clear that, in the general sense of being founded in Christian faith, this is a Christian country.
“It is certainly not in terms of regular churchgoing, although altogether, across different denominations, some millions attend church services each week.
“Others of different backgrounds have also positively shaped our common heritage.
Politicians and clerics aside, what does the public think? Christian Today says that the public is not so sure that England is all that Christian:
In Win/Gallup International’s poll of 1,034 Britons, 35 per cent said they felt religion had a positive impact on the country, while 29 per cent took the opposite view.
The pollsters calculated net positivity or negativity scores for countries by subtracting the percentage of those with negative views from the percentage of those positive about the influence.
Overall, Britain’s net positive score about religion’s influence on society was only 6 per cent, putting it low down on the table compared to the rest of the world.
Out of a total of 68,800 people surveyed across 65 countries, 59 per cent said they thought religion had a positive impact in their nations, while just under a quarter (22 per cent) said they felt the impact was negative.