The poor are scroungers. Communities are dispensable. Strangers are suspects. These are the hallmarks of David Cameron’s Britain. All are profoundly un-Christian.
Yet in his Christmas message the Prime Minister urged people to reflect on Britain’s Christian values. The problem is he clearly has very little idea what Christian values actually encompass.
“These important religious roots and Christian values” that he appears to exhort are in fact far more radical and uncomfortable than a falsely idyllic view of eighteenth century Britain.
So here are three simple traits that need to change for Britain to be a more Christ-like nation:
The undeserving poor
A narrative has emerged, fuelled by many Tory MPs, that the poor are undeserving, selfish and largely to blame for their predicament.
The department for work and pensions frequently talks about restoring “fairness to the system” and how it is “not fair” that taxpayers subsidise the poverty stricken. This paints a picture of scroungers who could look after themselves but choose not to out of laziness.
This is a stark contrast to Jesus’ teaching. Not only did he say, “blessed are you who are poor” but he also had some brutal words about judging others.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” Jesus teaches in Matthew 7. He said the same harshness we use to judge others will be used against us. The gospels are centred on compassion not condemnation.
As someone who used to work for a Tory MP I feel thoroughly disillusioned with how the poor are dismissed as feckless beggars. It is profoundly judgemental and un-Christian. Whatever you think about how to solve poverty, if Cameron wants a more Christian nation he needs to change the way he talks about the poor.
The unwelcome stranger
Jesus also had some stern words about welcoming foreigners and strangers.
His teaching was summed up in a very simple phrase: Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. The rest of his teaching and therefore the rest of what it would look like to be a Christian nation is characterised in this sentence.
And when asked to clarify who a “neighbour” was, he deliberately chose a Samaritan as his example. The cultural comparisons may be lost on us but Samaritans were foreigners seen as suspicious low-life. But Jesus places him at the centre of his story about being a good neighbour.
By contrast Cameron has treated refugees and migrants with suspicion. Eventually he reluctantly agreed to accept 20,000 by 2020. That is less than Germany accepted in one month.
Whether you use outright amount or numbers as proportion of population, Britain is not pulling its weight in loving our Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan neighbours.
Blessed are the war-makers
Another aspect of Jesus’ teaching absent on from modern Britain was his focus on peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he famously taught.
In Cameron’s Christmas message he referred to Jesus as the “prince of peace” and urged us to remember, “as a Christian country,” Christ’s birth represents peace. Which is ironic. Because Britain is making billions of pounds every year out of war.
Despite their horrendous human rights record, mass bombing of civilians in Yemen and suspected arming of terrorists, Cameron has authorised selling Saudi Arabia alone millions of pounds worth of weapons. The arms trade fair in London this autumn brought some of worst regimes in the world together to discover more exciting ways to kill people. And guess who was there to welcome them? That’s right. Cameron’s government.
So in all honesty I am not sure what kind of Britain Cameron wants. But it is certainly not a Christian one. And he needs to stop pretending it is.
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