David Cameron’s recent comment that England is still a Christian country has provoked considerable media coverage with some public figures - mainly atheist or secular humanists - accusing him of fostering alienation and division.
The 55 public figures, who wrote and signed a letter to the Telegraph newspaper, argue that members of the elected Government should not actively prioritise religion or any particular faith. As someone who has recently signed a letter from Bishops criticising the Governments Welfare Reforms, I would defend the right of those who signed the letter to express their views. So why shouldn’t David Cameron or any other member of parliament be able to express their views? Or are Christians - or those of other faiths - not allowed to express the crucial part Christianity continues to play in society? Don’t those who signed also run the risk of creating division and alienation by trying to supress any views about faith?
I understand not everyone has a faith or feels that faith is any longer relevant. However, that can’t diminish the critical part that Christianity has played in developing a nation that prides itself on being tolerant and where people live in relative peace. We only have to look around our war torn world and places where there is political unrest, and where freedom of views and expression of speech are supressed to realise how lucky we are.
In the same newspaper Charles Moore said: “Although the self-identification of Christians in Britain is declining, 59 per cent described themselves as such in the latest census. That is still a huge figure; allegiance to Christianity is roughly double that offered to any political party. Besides, the country that we now call the United Kingdom has been explicitly Christian for more than a thousand years. Britain’s entire political character today, with its idea of liberty based on Parliament, would be radically different if we had not become a Protestant nation in the 16th century.”
There may be political jostling behind the various letters and responses to David Cameron’s views about Christianity, and I welcome the debate it gives rise to. It should be noted however that David Cameron has also chosen to ignore church history, moral views and Christian heritage when it’s suited him. Whatever side of this debate you’re on there’s an underlying reality that can’t be denied, namely that Christianity has helped and continues to help shape us into nicer, kinder, generous, welcoming, tolerant and just people.
Faith groups in Doncaster are working towards the town being recognised as a “City of Sanctuary” which is a movement to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking sanctuary in the UK. Doncaster I’m sure will be proud to be place of safety for everyone and a place where there is no division, but where all can find refuge and support and a people of welcome and generosity and hope.