David Cameron ruffled some feathers this Easter.
This time they were those of a few of the New Atheists, with his public declaration that we live in a Christian country and that the Lord is ‘our saviour’. During April he held an Easter reception in Downing Street and subsequently wrote an article for the Church Times. It included the remarkable call to be ‘more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives’. In the article, he described his own personal faith experience and membership of the Church of England.
Christianity causes division?
Atheists were riled. 55 of them wrote an open letter to the Daily Telegraph complaining that his words were causing division. I do not remember any of them ever writing in complaint when Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband confessed to being atheists. Perhaps our secular intellectuals cannot imagine that atheism could ever be divisive, they see that as purely a Christian ailment!
Christians raised some probing questions. John Stevens, National Director of the FIEC, wrote his own letter (unpublished) to the Daily Telegraph asking how a nation where less than 10% of the population regularly attend church can seriously be considered Christian. In the light of the erosion of Christian values through national policies, Stevens wrote, ‘May God have mercy upon us again, and raise up faithful preachers like Whitefield and Wesley, who will declare the good news of the gospel, which can alone bring forgiveness of our sins, renewal of our churches and transformation of our nation’.
Is our nation a Christian nation or not? In the 2011 census nearly 60% of the population described themselves as Christian. The shared English language developed alongside the translation of the Bible. Many of our cultural references are owed to biblical phrases and vocabulary. Our moral values and ethical system are clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview. Harry Cole, writing in the Spectator, reminded the critics that the first word of our national anthem is ‘God’ and when atheist politician Nye Bevan formed the NHS, he described it as ‘a little piece of Christianity.’
David Cameron’s words remind us that all is far from lost. The bedrock of our nation remains founded on Christian values and concepts. Most of the population do not have personal faith in Christ but they remain saturated in the Christian worldview. This is encouraging for evangelism. The doors are still open for the gospel.
Encounter in Bethlehem
I met David Cameron in March. It was not so much a meeting as a passing encounter. I was staying at a hotel in Bethlehem where Cameron happened to be having a conference with the Palestinian president, Mahmood Abbas. As it was a low-key visit with little armed presence I decided to wait in the relatively empty lobby and greet him on arrival. I would only have a moment to say anything so I prayed to God and asked what I should say.
At that moment my phone buzzed with a text message from a teacher friend suggesting ‘Tell him to sack Michael Gove’. I decided against it, and as he walked past me all I could find to say was ‘God bless you, David!’. It was hardly my finest evangelistic moment but clearly the words would have still meant something to him.
While most people are not Christians, the significant influence of the Christian world-view provides countless points of contact for evangelism and opportunities for even a brief gospel word. And, whatever the motives of our politicians and the impact of their policies, we do still pray that God may bless them with wisdom to do the right thing (1 Timothy 2:2).
Chris is lecturer at Moorlands College and pastor of Alderholt Chapel. His books include Confident Christianity and Time Travel to the Old Testament published by IVP. (Editor’s note: No more name dropping please, Chris!)