Melanie McDonagh

Cameron’s missing the point: Christian values require Christianity

Cameron's missing the point: Christian values require Christianity
Text settings

The Prime Minister does God. At least, that's the gist of his first major speech on religion. Actually, the interesting thing is that a Tory Prime Minister feels that he has to make the point that he is a Christian. Other than Michael Howard, who was Jewish, most other Tory leaders could have assumed we’d take it as read that he or she was more or less CofE, including Mrs Thatcher, who was, of course, a Methodist. 

Following Richard Dawkins' remark that the Prime Minister may 'not really' be a Christian, Mr Cameron responded: 'I am a committed – but I have to say vaguely practising – Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith'. But he added he was 'full of doubts' and 'constantly grappling' with the big theological issues.

Now no Christian would take issue with that last remark. Grappling with the big theological issues is what we do. It's pretty well a working definition of Augustine's 'fides quaerens intellectum', or faith seeking understanding.

But if Mr Cameron is going to enter into religious debate – and he's more than welcome – then he can't complain if some Christians take issue with his views, as he has done with those of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In particular, his remark that it is right for political leaders to say something about religious institutions 'affecting our society' when they do not promote equality and tolerance. He mentioned that the Bible backed the 'emancipation of women – even if not every Church has always got the point'.

Which particular denomination can he have in mind do you reckon? Ah yes, it would be the Catholic Church. The PM was one of those who voted against allowing Catholic adoption societies to offer children for adoption solely to heterosexual couples. And that bit about the emancipation of women – might he have in mind the Church's rejection of the ordination of women, or the opposition of Anglo-Catholics to women bishops?

Well, it would be a rash polemicist who claimed the Bible, or indeed the gospels, for his own side. Certainly the gospels have a radical view of gender – as St Paul said, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. But the texts certainly don't unequivocally back either homosexuality or a female priesthood. Indeed working from the Old Testament alone there is, shall we say, a problem with homosexuality which can’t be quite equated with other prohibitions. In short, Mr Cameron can't afford to be dogmatic about his gospel of tolerance, certainly to the point of persecuting adoption agencies that discriminate in favour of married heterosexuals.

But more profoundly, Mr Cameron's remarks about Christian values fail to get to the heart of the contemporary moral malaise. Look, Christian values flow from Christianity. Without those beliefs in the God who became man, and who died for sinners and rose from the dead, and forgave sins, the moral values don't count for much. It's because of who and what Christ was that we take to heart what he said about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek. Values aren't something free-floating; they come from what we believe. So when Mr Cameron says we should return to Christian values, he misses the point. What we need – with all respect to other faiths – is a return to Christianity.