You may have noticed there is an election coming up, and campaigns are brewing. I think that’s important, and I am following it all quite closely.
You may also have noticed that Easter is upon us, and Christians are turning their thoughts even more closely to remember the most crucial part of our faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The centre of the Venn Diagram
If you’re especially observant, you will have noticed some articles which bring these two things together. A few key political leaders have spoken of Christian faith generally and Easter specifically. If you haven’t seen them, I’m talking about articles by David Cameron and Michael Gove.
The bottom line is this: I take issue with some of what has been said about the faith I hold to, and when I feel my faith—and Jesus who lies at the heart of it—have been misrepresented, I choose to speak up.
A few disclaimers first, before I begin:
- I have thoughts on both of these articles, but I am only going to comment on David Cameron’s.
- There are far better articles out there talking about this than mine, especially this by Ruth Gledhill. My comment will be much narrower than hers.
- I do not share the politics of these men and their party, but I do not believe my disagreement with Cameron’s comment on faith is determined by that. (And I won’t be ending this post by telling you that you should therefore vote for a different party. I’ll never do that on this blog.)
As I’ve thought about this, I think there’s a problem on the surface, and a deeper problem underlying it.
As I read David Cameron’s article, I found a lot of it frankly baffling. Having heard and read a lot of his political speeches and statements recently, and having been following his party’s campaign, a lot of what I read was very familiar. It was about the values that underpin his worldview, values of making work pay, of building a better society, of fairness, equality and so on. It has become familiar rhetoric.
What baffled me, though, was the way he so readily equates this worldview with his understanding of Christian faith. With no explanation or elaboration, Cameron says:
And for me, the key point is this: the values of Easter and the Christian religion – compassion, forgiveness, kindness, hard work and responsibility – are values that we can all celebrate and share.
And then concludes with this:
Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children. And today, that message matters more than ever.
Simply put, I don’t believe these statements are accurate at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that compassion, forgiveness, kindness, hard work and responsibility all flow out from the Christian message, and that doing the right thing for the good of our children is a good thing!
But to say that these are ‘the values of Easter’ and that ‘Easter is all about’ them is just untrue. They are some of ‘the values of’ the Conservative Party, and much of his campaign is ‘all about’ them. But Easter is not.
Easter is about Jesus Christ, who is not mentioned once in the article. Easter is about Jesus’ death at the hands of those who hated him, and his resurrection from the grave, conquering death itself. Victory through sacrifice, humiliation, servitude and submission. Hope through struggle and pain. This is the message of Easter. Not ‘the importance of change’.
The underlying problem: you can’t do this
So the surface problem in my eyes is that Cameron has misrepresented what is the heart of the Christian faith. He has articulated it as a faith all about ‘doing the right thing’, where ‘the right thing’ is determined by his own worldview and set of values. I honestly believe he is saying Easter, and Christian faith more generally, is something other than it is.
My objection is this: he does not have the right to do that.
To be clear, neither do I. Neither do you. Nobody does. It feels as though Cameron wants to tell Christians he’s behind them and values them. But on his own terms. He fully admits to being ‘a bit hazy’ on the details of Christian faith, but he still states unequivocally what the heart of my faith is.
But there’s only one person that can tell me what the heart of my faith must be, and his name is Jesus.
I get that there are parts of my faith which are a tough sell politically. And Easter is one of them. It is a story of sacrifice, self-denial and service like no other. And it calls us all to similarly deny ourselves, and commit to a life of sacrifice. It is a story of grace which tells us no matter how hard we work we can’t do it ourselves and need to trust in something we have never earned. It’s counter-cultural stuff.
As a passionate believer in the church, I say this: we need to remain counter-cultural if we’re going to have an impact at all. Cameron’s articulation of the Christian message is very watered-down and sanitised so it can’t meet with objection from anyone. But the gospel isn’t like that. Jesus wasn’t like that. He upset the status quo and people killed him for it.
Everything which Christians do (including all the things Cameron praises) flows out of what we believe about this Jesus. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t have the stuff we do without letting us have the Jesus for whom we do it. Any articulation of ‘the heart of the Christian message’ without Jesus at the very core is wildly inaccurate.
Please don’t ask us to accept it isn’t. That’s not your place, and you don’t have the right.