The Church Times has reported that David Cameron used an Easter reception at Downing Street to welcome the role of Christian organisations in building the Big Society.
Describing himself as a “wishy-washy sort of Christian” he nevertheless spoke of the need for committed involvement of Christian groups in public and civic life. He said:
“You’ll all say that our Lord was really dealing with, starting, the Big Society two thousand years ago, and you’re absolutely right. I’m not saying we’ve invented some great new idea here.
“What I’m saying is that one of the best things about our country is that people step forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as organisations, as churches, and do extraordinary things in our country in terms of helping others and helping to build a bigger, richer, more prosperous, more generous society; and all I’m saying is wouldn’t it be great if we did even more of that.”
Yet the question which most politically aware Christians are concerned with is not whether their role in “helping others” is welcome or not. The sheer number of services provided in this country by Christians – both through explicitly Christian organisations, or as private individuals motivated by Christ’s teachings – is staggering. The question is whether the Church might be allowed to engage in public life as more than a service provider.
On this, the Prime Minister had even more encouraging words:
“I’ve never really understood this argument about ‘Should the Church get involved in politics? Yes or no?’ To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church, is involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions. . .
“So I don’t think we should be frightened about having these debates, and these discussions, and frankly sometimes these arguments about politics in our country and what it means to be a Christian and what faith brings to our politics.”
As some commentators have pointed out, however, it is not clear that we have a sufficiently robust public discourse to allow these arguments. The fear of appearing sectarian too often means Christians fall for the secularist line that we can only speak to each other in politics through an apparently ‘neutral’ common language. (You could write at length about this topic here, and others have done so elsewhere.) Yet language which seeks to be neutral necessarily avoids speaking about the things we feel most ardently about and, therefore, the things which matter most to us. Values are thrust out of the public square.
This is really a topic for a future blog post (watch this space), but it does shine an interesting light on the PM. Those who sought to dismiss David Cameron as nothing but a PR man appear to have misread his character. Of course, his comments might be pandering to an audience. But they don’t feel like words spoken from a script. There seems to be a deeper reflection on morality and public life going on here. The question is whether his words will remain verabl encouragement, or be translated into something more tangible as the Coalition’s policies shaping the Big Society gradually become law.