Tonight’s topic is on the recent declaration from David Cameron that his Big Society project was “invented by Jesus”.
Cameron’s “Big Society” initiative was a flagship policy from 2010 and aims to empower local people and communities, and asks citizens of England to take responsibility in their own civic duties.
What I’d like to do is read some of the transcript of his speech for you tonight, and then we’ll reflect on it afterwards. It begins like this:
Look, a huge – a warm welcome to everybody. The Bible tells us, actually, to bear one another’s burden and you will fulfil the law of Christ; after the day I’ve had, I’m definitely looking for a few volunteers for that. But I – just a few things I wanted to say tonight.
I’m proud to hold a reception for Christians here in Downing Street and proud to be a Christian myself and to have my children at a church school, which – I often get my moment of greatest peace – not every week, I’m ashamed to say, but perhaps every other week I pop in to the Thursday morning sung Eucharist beautiful service in St Mary Abbots, and I find a little bit of peace and hopefully a little bit of guidance.
Now, look, there were 3 things that I wanted to say tonight about what I hope we can do more of in our country when it comes to Christianity. We should be proud of the fact that we are a Christian country, and I am proud of the fact we’re a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say so. But I think the 3 things I want to focus on – and I hope we can all work on this – the first is to expand the role of faith and faith organisations in our country.
Second thing is I hope we can do more to raise the profile of the persecution of Christians around the world. It is the case today that our religion is now the most persecuted religion around the world. We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other religious groups wherever and whenever we can, and should be unashamed in doing so.
This third thing I wanted to say, which I suppose is a little bit more controversial, but I was reflecting on this meeting tonight and what to share with you and I have a thought – which is not a new thought, but I think it is a true thought –which is when I think of the challenges which our churches face in our country and when I think about the challenges political institutions face in our countries – in our country, I see a lot of similarities.
Whereas actually, what we both need more of is evangelism. More belief that we can get out there and actually change people’s lives and make a difference and improve both the spiritual, physical and moral state of our country, and we should be unashamed and clear about wanting to do that.
There are some really big things that this government is doing which are about that improving state of the world and evangelism.
And when I look at churches I see that the – you’re trying to do exactly the same thing, to fire up your congregations with a sense that actually, if we pull together, we can change the world, we can make it a better place.
Whether its providing services for children at risk of exclusion, whether it’s teaching prisoners to read, whether it’s dealing with breakdown, whether it’s provision of food banks, there are some extraordinary organisations run by faith groups and Christians in our country and I want to see the possibilities for that to expand . . .Thank you.
Now, I just want to talk about a few things that he has mentioned in this speech:
First of all he starts with the word Look. Which kind of makes you think he’s starting really defensively. Sometimes when he’s being questioned in interviews he answers with ‘Look’ and it seems a bit telling he starts this speech in the same way. He also talks about how often he goes to Mass every other week, mentioning his parish in the same way a racist always says ‘I have lots of black friends, but…’
He openly claims his religion, which is always a dodgy thing for politicians to do – apparently Tony Blair was told to keep his Christianity a secret in the beginning, and Nick Clegg recently admitted he doesn’t believe in God.
What are we to think about this? What are we to think about politics and religion mixing? Do we think that the Prime Minister should be free to declare their faith? Or are we allowed to be a little cynical? Maybe he’s just trying to appeal to a large section of voters in the same way he recently appealed to the Jewish and Muslim communities. What are we to say to the fact that his education minister has just declared an all out war on Birmingham schools which he fears are spreading Islamic takeovers?
And what are we to say to the last section of Cameron’s speech – where he celebrates church run food banks? Shouldn’t we be lamenting the fact that food banks even exist in England? And he mentions teaching prisoners to read even though they are rolling out a book ban in prisons in England and Wales.
Let’s finish with a quote from Matthew and you can decide for yourself if this is what Cameron believes he is doing:
Jesus proclaims that how you treat the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and other "least of these," is how you treat Jesus himself. And if you fail to help the "least of these," Jesus promises, he will send you to Hell.