Earlier this year, at the Prime Minister David Cameron’s Easter Reception, he referred to Britain as a ‘Christian nation.’ Here are my thoughts on the matter
What does it mean to be a ‘Christian nation’? With the title comes responsibility. It’s one thing to say we are a nation shaped and founded by Christianity. It is quite another to seek to maintain the identity of ‘Christian nation’. Yes we may have Christianity at our core, but we can’t rely on that forever to keep us branded as a ‘Christian nation.’ Indeed I would question whether it’s worth clinging on to at all. That is the past, this is now.
Christian ethics, when properly engaged with and acted upon are radical – always have been and, I imagine, always will be.
One of the key things Jesus did was to show us that the ethics of the Kingdom of God are completely different to that of this world. He broke pretty much every social rule – he interacted with lepers, women, prostitutes, tax collectors – everyone who was considered an outcast.
His death itself redefined power and love. It brought home the message that true power lies not in retaliation and displays of strength through weapons or oppression, but rather in absorbing violence, injustice, hypocrisy and jealousy through non-retaliation, usually at the expense of your own pride and reputation. Christianity teaches us that it is in our weakness that we are strong; the Christian story is one that is characterised by human weakness, surrender to God, putting others before yourself and taking risky steps of faith for God’s power to shine through.
Do we really believe these are the ethics that guide British policy and behaviour on the global stage?
Perhaps a big issue for a Prime Minister is that Christianity doesn’t have a whole lot of space for national boundaries and patriotism. The idea of Britain being a ‘Christian nation’ is one which is often wrapped up in patriotism; holding fast to our ‘British, Christian heritage and history.’ But this in itself is a contradiction. Patriotism emphasises and celebrates difference between nations. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is not ‘Christian.’ Christianity calls us to view the world in a new way – as a space that is made up first and foremost of people who are equal and seek to live in unity.
Galatians 3:28 ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’
I wonder if Cameron is happy to view us a Christian nation until it requires us to act in a way that is counter to the Western world’s understanding of power and economic gain.
The desire to be a Christian nation is not something to be taken lightly. The values of the Kingdom of God turn worldly ethics on their head and demand a willingness to swim against the flow of popular opinion and social norms. It demands sacrifice, humility, and forgiveness. It may require a nation to do things that don’t seem to make worldly sense and indeed may not be politically practical.
For example, to put other nations’ interests before our own; to take a lead in treating vulnerable groups within its land, such as refugees & asylum seekers, with compassion and patience; or to make the first move in nuclear disarmament even though it means leaving yourself a little vulnerable and taking a risk.
I wonder if this is something David Cameron really wants or if he thought about it a bit more, would he rather keep his definition of Britain as a ‘Christian nation’ as a title of sentimentality for the past and ignore the radical implications the title would hold for the present?