David Cameron’s Easter greeting
Easter week is a very important moment in the Christian calendar, so I would like to extend my best wishes to everyone here in the United Kingdom, and across the world, at this special time of year.
Easter week? Ah, you mean Holy Week? But perhaps that’s a bit too pious or liturgical-sounding for you? And a ‘very important moment’, is it? A bit like buying a new car? Or getting married? Or a general election? It’s actually rather more than that – to Christians, at least. And that’s who you’re talking to. Ostensibly. But we’re glad indeed that you are, at least, a prime minister who is prepared to ‘do God’. Or (more often) instruct your party co-Chairman to do Allah on your behalf (and that of the entire Cabinet). In fact, the more you do God personally, the more you reveal to us the depth of your understanding of the Christian doctrine of God, and so the more can we see and understand the inspiration of your policies... So, thank you. At least you’re not hiding your light under a bushel for fear of being thought a nutter. For that, we are grateful.This is the time when, as Christians, we remember the life, sacrifice and living legacy of Christ.
This is actually the holiest period in the liturgical year, Prime Minister. And Easter Day is the day we remember the Resurrection of Christ, not his ‘legacy’. Politicians tend to be concerned about leaving us with a legacy: the Son of God was concerned with offering us eternal life. Yes, that’s a legacy of sorts. But what’s wrong with the word ‘Resurrection’? Does it stick in the PC-pantheistic throat a little? Is it a bit too literally theological? Or mythically laughable? After all, carpenters tend not to get resurrected very much in Coalition Britain, so it’s probably safer to allude to some generalised ‘legacy’ rather than risk inciting Richard Dawkins and his intolerant secular-humanist hordes and being classed as a ‘nutter’ who believes on ‘conjuring tricks with bones’.The New Testament tells us so much about the character of Jesus; a man of incomparable compassion, generosity, grace, humility and love.
Yes, yes, but the New Testament tells us so much more than that, doesn’t it? Let’s not forget his uncompromising assertions of truth, his anger, his sharp tongue, his sternness and absolute intolerance of hypocrisy. What about the Jesus who was physically violent in the Temple? What about the Jesus who spewed out verbal abuse when the Pharisees criticised Him for healing on the Sabbath? And it’s not very Christian, is it, to curse a fig tree such that it ceases to bear fruit? That wouldn’t go down very well in Witney Garden Centre. Jesus told us to suffer the little children; not abort them. He told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more; not find a lesbian partner and marry her. And he taught quite a lot about money, greed and hell, but they’re not so fluffy and pink, are they? Jesus was an Orthodox Jew, Prime Minister. An awful lot of what he did and said may seem utterly antithetical to the modern, decontaminated Tory understanding of ‘compassion, generosity, grace, humility and love’. Love demands truth, or it is not love. And sometimes the truth is unpalatable, and people tend not to want to hear it. Especially if they’re politicians.These are the values that Jesus embraced, and I believe these are values people of any faith, or no faith, can also share in, and admire.
You have to shift the narrative to some Hickian overture of universalism, don’t you? Good grief, you don’t mention people of other faiths (and none) when you send out No10 greetings for Ramadan, Eid, Diwali or Guru Nanak’s birthday. Honestly, have you ever said that Mohammed exemplified the ‘values people of any faith, or no faith, can also share in’? You don’t reduce the important celebrations of minority groups to a set of ‘values’: you honour the significance and meaning of each out of respect for the followers of their respective gods. You’ve just issued your Passover greeting to British Jews: there was not a whiff of an allusion to the Muslim Moses who led the Ummah out of Egypt to the Promised Land of Palestine. You can reduce any religion to a shared duck-down duvet of ‘values’, but they are no substitute for the hard wood and nails of the Cross.It is values like these that make our country what it is – a place which is tolerant, generous and caring. A nation which has an established faith, that together is most content when we are defined by what we are for, rather than defined by what we are against.
Ah, so the Christian character of England begets a Christology of British Values. But how much has ever been achieved by those Britons who were ‘tolerant, generous and caring’? Was Margaret Thatcher tolerant, generous and caring? Was Oliver Cromwell? William Wilberforce? Lord Shaftesbury? Emmeline Pankhurst? Elizabeth Fry? Those who have made our country what it is have been known to be manifestly intolerant, ungenerous and uncaring of that which is unjust, immoral or wrong. They possessed a crusading passion for justice which was animated by a deep and burning sense of anger. Of course, they might also have had their ‘tolerant, generous and caring’ moments, but by exalting these ‘values’ above all others you seek to neuter Christians by demanding that they be ‘nice’; and by their smiley faces and happy-clappy choruses shall ye know them. You favour the gentle, inoffensive, easy-going type of Christian, whom Jesus might have termed ‘lukewarm’. What about those who, like Jesus, can be prickly and principled? Is there a place for them in the modern Conservative Party, or, indeed, in modern Britain? His Grace asks, because you seem to do to them as the world does: cast them aside as bigots and extremists. Honestly, how many times have you commended members of Cornerstone for upholding Christian values? How often have you patted David Burrowes on the back, or Nadine Dorries, or Edward Leigh? Did you commend the Archbishop of York for defending the traditional Christian teaching on marriage? Have you ever commended any Christian for upholding the biblical view of sexual morality? Or is it that these really aren’t your type of Christian?In the book of Luke, we are told that Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” – advice that when followed makes for a happier, and better society for everyone.
But at least we must thank you for referring to ‘an established faith’, though His Grace would rather you had referred to the Established Faith, for Her Majesty is Defender of that Faith, and that Faith has a definite article, and that Faith boldly asserts what we are for, and by so doing defines us by what we are against: the two are mutually inclusive.
And so you can probably expect your backbenchers to do to you what you’ve done to them. And Conservative Party members won’t particularly care, because you don’t particularly care about them. In fact, there are quite a few who can hardly wait to do unto you as you’ve done unto them. And (sadly) it doesn’t always make them happier or society any better.So as families and friends get together this week, I would like to send my best wishes to you all, and I hope and pray you have a very happy and peaceful Easter.
And the same to you, too. But here, for your interest and as a helpful comparison, is the Easter message from the President of the United States of America, delivered at a prayer breakfast gathering in the White House:
In a few short days, all of us will experience the wonder of Easter morning. And we will know, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus...and Him crucified.”
It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the triumph of the resurrection, and to give thanks for the all-important gift of grace. And for me, and I’m sure for some of you, it’s also a chance to remember the tremendous sacrifice that led up to that day, and all that Christ endured – not just as a Son of God, but as a human being.
For like us, Jesus knew doubt. Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that He burdened – that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, “He is Risen!”
So the struggle to fathom that unfathomable sacrifice makes Easter all the more meaningful to all of us. It helps us to provide an eternal perspective to whatever temporal challenges we face. It puts in perspective our small problems relative to the big problems He was dealing with. And it gives us courage and it gives us hope.
We all have experiences that shake our faith. There are times where we have questions for God’s plan relative to us, but that’s precisely when we should remember Christ’s own doubts and eventually his own triumph. Jesus told us as much in the book of John, when He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Let me repeat. “In this world, you will have trouble.”
“But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We are here today to celebrate that glorious overcoming, the sacrifice of a risen savior who died so that we might live. And I hope that our time together this morning will strengthen us individually, as believers, and as a nation.
At least when President Obama does God, he preaches Christ and Him crucified. And everything else flows naturally from that central historical truth and soteriological imperative. While Cameron pussyfoots along a Pelagian-Anglican via media which wouldn’t be out of place in Southwark Cathedral, Obama gets right in there with the Calvinists to a chorus of ‘Amens’ and ‘Hallelujahs’ from the Southern Baptist Bible Belt. Some might quibble and assert aspects of Arminianism, but with this message no-one could accuse President Obama of reducing Jesus to the man who ‘set a good example’ and who bequeathed to us a ‘legacy’ of ‘values’.