“The Queen used her Christmas Day broadcast to make one of her most overtly religious addresses to the nation in recent years,” The Telegraph wrote.
It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’…
Despite being displaced and persecuted throughout his short life, Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another. Although it is not an easy message to follow, we shouldn’t be discouraged; rather, it inspires us to try harder: to be thankful for the people who bring love and happiness into our own lives, and to look for ways of spreading that love to others, whenever and wherever we can.
And Prime Minister David Cameron’s Christmas message was similarly religious. Christmas, it may need noting, is an important Christian holy day marking the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians acknowledge as the Savior of the world. Cameron’s message began with a discussion of Syrian refugees and persecuted Christians. He thanked doctors and nurses working to help the sick during the holidays, as well as the armed forces deployed around the world. Then he said:
It is because they face danger that we have peace. And that is what we mark today as we celebrate the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace. As a Christian country, we must remember what his birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope. I believe that we should also reflect on the fact that it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.
This may seem a fairly anodyne message of civil religion, if a bit more overtly Christian than such civil religion messages tend to be, but many people were livid at it and launched a campaign of condemnation on social media. They called the campaign “You Ain’t No Christian, Bruv,” in homage to the statement made by a non-Muslim to an Islamist terrorist in London earlier this month.
The “You Ain’t No Christian, Bruv” campaign includes such tweets as:
Poor are poorer than ever, the hungry are hungrier than ever and for many there’s no room at the inn. Call-me-Dave #youaintnochristianbruv
— Liam Young (@liamyoung) December 24, 2015
The Tory government has increased child poverty, homelessness, zero hours contracts, prejudice against the disabled #YouAintNoChristianBruv
— Yrotitna (@yrotitna) December 24, 2015
Cameron, leader of most unchristian party.Bedroom Tax, attacks on disabled,foodbanks. Gives country a moral lecture #YouAintNoChristianBruv
— Chris Furlong (@SocialistChris) December 24, 2015
Here are three problems with the campaign.
1) It’s Theologically Incoherent
Telling David Cameron #YouAintNoChristianBruv is to fall into heresy. Pelagianism, I think. Possibly Donatism, too. Yes, I’m fun at parties.
— rosamundi ن (@rosamundi) December 28, 2015
I don’t think it’s heresy per se, but it’s still wrong. Cameron is a baptized Christian, a member of the Church of England. Even if you accepted the silly view that God’s politics perfectly align with yours — yes, yours, conveniently — deviation from said politics would not oust you from the community of believers. Christianity assumes a sinful condition on the part of all humankind and an inability to be perfect this side of eternal life. So doing what everyone else does — which is to say sinning — does not necessarily banish you to h-e-double hockey sticks.
2) It’s Hypocritical And Lacking In Humility
You know that story about the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector from the Gospel of Luke?
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Believe me, I hate this more than anyone, but you’re supposed to be focused on your own sins more than President Barack Obama’s, Cameron’s, or anyone else out there. It’s certainly fair to criticize someone’s politics, but you have to keep it in check lest you end up being on the side of the Pharisee and not the tax collector.
3) Major Two Kingdom Confusion
Note the tweets above. They all claim that Cameron isn’t a Christian because the government isn’t doing what Jesus says to do for the poor and downtrodden. Now, certainly the government can (and should!) be influenced by the virtues of Christianity. But it’s not virtuous to take other people’s money and spend it on ineffective programs. And there’s a lot of question-begging in these tweets — they simply assume that more bureaucracy is of course the same as more Christian.
Jesus said in the Gospel of John that “my kingdom is not of this world.” Cameron confuses this as well when he compares military forces that keep the peace (which certainly can be a noble, temporal work) with the Prince of Peace who forgives sin. The Wall Street Journal confuses this royally each year with its annual publication of an editorial that says the meaning of Christmas is about classical liberal government. So this confusion is not just something folks who love government do.
Following in the footsteps of Jesus, Christians have discussed the realms of earthly government and church government and how they differ. This is not to say that God has no place in earthly government — indeed, all authority and order are divine gifts (even if frequently abused). But the two have different roles. The church grants absolution; secular government does not. The government puts the thief in jail; the church does not. So don’t assume that because the church says not to gossip, that this means the secular government should imprison those who do. Show your work and learn the difference between you practicing charity voluntarily and forcing others to do it instead.
4) The Campaign Fails To Put The Best Construction On Cameron’s Message
I know it’s popular these days to hate everything your political opponent says and does, but our knee-jerk reactions against those on the other team means we miss good things, too. You may not appreciate what Cameron said, but consider whether there is any truth to what he said. Is there a difference in countries with a Christian heritage and other heritages in terms of tolerance shown to others? And, if so, why might that be? Even if that level of reflection is more than you wish to do this Christmas week, could we at least all show thanks to doctors and nurses working while we’re on holiday? Or for military members willing to sacrifice home life and physical security to defend the country or help others throughout the world?