April 24, 2014
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, organised his fourth Easter reception at Downing street 10.
In an article in the Church Times, Cameron characterised the UK as a Christian Nation and explicitly embraced the Church as a partner of the state, because of their addressing of some of the pressing problems of society
We see our churches as vital partners. If we pull together, we can change the world and make it a better place.
We can recognise this flirt of the State with the Church from the history of the Roman Empire. Constantine persecuted Christians at first, but later he turned to the Church in recognition of its organisational qualities. These qualities made the church an important partner in governance and was useful for providing stability in the Roman Empire.
Public support for the Church
Whether Cameron's reaffirmation of the role of the Church for welfare programs and other social projects should be feared or praised remains to be seen. It certainly is a clear recognition to role the Church has always had in social welfare for both Christians and non-Christians. Should it, however, receive public support of the type Cameron provides? Over 20 million pound sterling has been given to the Church for maintenance of Cathedrals and 8 million to support the Near Neighbours programme of the Church. Not for no reason his article in the Church Times, entitled "My faith in the Church of England", is echoed today in The Telegraph.
Separation of Church and State
The deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, would rather have the Queen giving up on her title of Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, which she inherited from Henry VIII who broke with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Despite being a Christian myself, I would rather support Clegg than Cameron in his plight. I also share to quite an extent the criticism that was expressed by 50 prominent humanists, atheists and secular scholars in a letter to The Telegraph:
"We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society. Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society. Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs."
While it may be taken into consideration that many communities from religions other than Christianity have indicated that they have no problems with Cameron calling the UK a Christian nation, his explicit referencing to the Church as a vital partner of the State should be met with some healthy suspicion.
0.7% for welfare or trade
The achievements of the British government to keep to the 0.7%-target of Gross National Income for foreign aid and to do something about modern slavery may be noticed. However, it would be wrong to link this to the Christian tradition only, like Cameron did. Organisations like Oxfam and Save the Children have been at the forefront of this fight. At the same time it should be noticed that, for instance, the UK Trade and Investment office is a firm supporter of increased levels of humanitarian aid, given their prominent place at the annual AidEx in Brussels.
Both the Old and New Testament bear witness to the reality of answerability from earthly kings to Divine power, independent from the religious convictions of their people. This is a reality in many faith systems. At the same time some biblical kings made serious efforts of cleansing the land from idols and returning to God, who they recognised as creator of heaven and earth. If the latter is Cameron’s objective, I would warmheartedly support him. However, he does not need the Church as an institution to help him do that and he may find unorthodox friends at his side among humanists and activists who also wish to take better care of this planet.
Church to save the State
The Church should not be called in to save a failing welfare state and make up for its shortcomings in providing for its citizens. Neither should a political leader try to win popular votes by paying visits to churches (like Asad did in Syria or like Putin last year in Ukraine). The Church in turn should not be willing to accept public support for taking up a social welfare role. Christians should rather continue to be witnesses of Christ and show Gods sacrificial love to kings and commoners, following the example set by the founder of their faith, Jesus Christ. Such love surpasses divisions based on political affiliation, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religions and accepts everyone as unique human beings, created in the image of God. Showing such a love would really bring heaven on earth. I guess there are still many lessons to learn for both the State and the Church.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.