cutting and pasting: politicians talking about faith

Cameron: In a speech in Oxford on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the prime minister called for a revival of traditional Christian values to counter Britain’s “moral collapse”.

Cameron told the Church of England clergy gathered in Oxford that a return to Christian values could counter the country’s “moral collapse” and blamed a “passive tolerance” of immoral behaviour for this summer’s riots, Islamic extremism, City excess and Westminster scandals.

Obama: Christ’s birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar.  He was a manifestation of God’s love for us.  And He grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful:  that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Cameron: Describing himself as a “committed” but only “vaguely practising” Christian, the PM admitted he was “full of doubts” about big theological issues.

Obama: So long as the gifts and the parties are happening, it’s important for us to keep in mind the central message of this season, and keep Christ’s words not only in our thoughts, but also in our deeds.  In this season of hope, let’s help those who need it most –- the homeless, the hungry, the sick and shut in.  In this season of plenty, let’s reach out to those who struggle to find work or provide for their families.  In this season of generosity, let’s give thanks and honor to our troops and our veterans, and their families who’ve sacrificed so much for us.  And let’s welcome all those who are happily coming home.”

Cameron: Mr Cameron said people often argued that “politicians shouldn’t ‘do God'” – a reference to a comment famously made by former No 10 spin doctor Alistair Campbell when Tony Blair was asked about his religion. “If by that they mean we shouldn’t try to claim a direct line to God for one particular political party, they could not be more right,” the PM said.”

Quotes from the BBC on Cameron’s speech yesterday, the Guardian on the speech, and Sojourners’ blog on Obama’s remarks on lighting up the White House Christmas tree. 

I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting at here – but my gut feels a difference between Obama and Cameron’s expressions of Christianity (verbally in this kind of situation, and in the policies they espouse and try and get enacted). I’ll freely admit that my gut is definitely influenced by my general liking for Obama and my general distaste for Cameron.

I feel like Cameron may believe what he says about Christianity and Britain, and his own faith, but I don’t find it reassuring.  His comments about a moral collapse being behind the summer riots are problematic for me, because – while I think the statement is arguably true, I think the moral collapse is in the social and economic situation that has created an incredibly unequal and unjust balance of power in Britain – and Cameron thinks it is about ‘broken’ families, and people not working and being willing to rob to get what they want (and, let’s not get this wrong, looting is not a good thing, but Cameron isn’t going deep enough in his analysis of causation).   His comment about being committed but only vaguely practicing is, for me, symptomatic of the problem.  I know it’s there to soothe those who are concerned about politicians who think they have a hot-line to God – and Cameron is right that politicians shouldn’t claim that, I completely agree with him there.  But I feel like if you are committed to a faith, then you ought to be more than vaguely practicing, otherwise how are you actually committed?  And I don’t believe the way the current government is concerned with trying to restore the pre-crash status quo for the financial industry is *not* about justice and I don’t buy into it as a Christian approach to building a society. 

Obama’s faith and expression of his understanding of Christianity is something I’ve always had sympathy with – it’s how I came to be aware him, when a friend sent me a link to his keynote address at 2006’s Call to Renewal conference, in which he talked about Christianity and politics.  I don’t know if I sympathise with understanding of Christianity because I grew up in a vaguely lefty environment, or if I’ve ended up on the political left because I grew up with this understanding of Christianity.  Either way, I’m aware of my innate bias, is what I’m saying.

I think Obama has as many questions about big theological issues as Cameron claims to have (and many Christians do), but I think that he is committed and committed to practicing his faith in the way he tries to shape the world – and I don’t think it’s about him having a hot-line to God, I think he believes what he believes and his personality doesn’t split the Christian from the Politician from the Human.  I don’t think he gets it right all of the time, and I know that both Christianity and Politics are both very complicated – and I’m pretty sure that the fact that Obama also knows that and doesn’t want to over simplify is a large part of many of his political woes.  But I think his approach to being a Christian in Politics is going to end up with us in a better place than Cameron’s will.

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