Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection

Barack Obama and David CameronPrime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama, who met recently in Washington, have both taken the opportunity of the run-up to Easter to talk about their Christian faith, including their position on the Resurrection.

Gillan Scott gives the text of David Cameron’s Easter message at a reception for Christian leaders. Gillan highlights some positive points in this message. Like Phil Groom in a comment, I am far from convinced that Cameron is really signalling a change of policy on gay marriage; rather, I would suggest, by insisting that the government proposals are only about civil marriage, he is asking Christians to choose different battles to fight.

But the main point I want to make here is not about gay marriage at all, but about Cameron’s Christian faith, or lack of it. Last year I wrote about how seriously he misunderstands the Bible, as centrally “about leading good lives and helping each other as best we can”. This week’s message shows all the more clearly how little true faith he has:

… actually, really, Easter in many ways is the one that counts. Even those of us who sometimes struggle with some parts of the message – the idea of resurrection, of a living God, of someone who’s still with us – is fantastically important even if you sometimes, as I do, struggle over some of the details.

So what Cameron seems to be saying, in somewhat confused words that are surely his own and not a speech writer’s, is that he doesn’t really believe in the Resurrection or in a living God who is still with us. For him, it seems, Christianity is merely “about leading good lives and helping each other as best we can”. But that is not Christian faith at all; it is no more than what the best of atheistic and deistic philosophers thought. Indeed, if Cameron doesn’t even believe in a living God, he really should call himself a deist or an agnostic, and make no claim to be a Christian.

So it came as a pleasant contrast to read these words spoken today by Barack Obama, quoted by Joel Watts from a speech at the White House Easter Prayer Service:

It is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, ‘He is Risen!’

These are the words of a true Christian. Mr Cameron, will you be able to join Mr Obama this Sunday in proclaiming, with genuine faith, “He is risen!”?

15 thoughts on “Cameron and Obama on the Resurrection

  1. Pingback: You’ve read Cameron’s Easter speech, now read President Obama’s | God and Politics in the UK

  2. Thanks Peter, you just beat me to it, but it’s given me a chance to add to link to you.

    I agree with your analysis, although I’m not sure why he appeared to mention the possibility of gay marriage not becoming law unless this has entered his thinking. Maybe I’m just being optimistic though.

    I do believe that David Cameron has some sort of a faith, but it is vague and he seems to struggle to express it coherently. Whether he actually is a believer or not, at least he and his government are openly supportive of the role of the church in this country, which hasn’t always been the case over the last few years from government.

  3. Peter, I think that your right about Cameron suggesting that Christians should ‘pick their battles’ in regards to same-sex marriage. I’m not sure though that he doesn’t believe in the Resurrection though. I got the impression from the blurb that he was just admitting that the Resurrection was one of those things that’s hard to believe and completely wrap your mind around.

  4. Pingback: You've read Cameron's Easter speech, now read President Obama's … | The Real Unemployment Statistics

  5. Thank you, Gillan. I too am glad that Cameron is “openly supportive of the role of the church in this country”. But that is not the same as personally being a believer.

    Rhea, of course the Resurrection is “hard to believe and completely wrap your mind around”. I’m sure we all have our doubts at times. But I don’t think a true believer would use the words that Cameron used. Rather I see “struggle with” as a code word for “don’t really accept, while not wanting to openly reject”. And there seems to be a consistent picture in his thinking, that right actions are central to Christianity, and the Resurrection and a living God are peripheral details.

  6. David Cameron could be in a no win position with this. Why the Guardian feels it has to conduct a silly poll on “Is it OK for Prime Ministers to do God in Public?” confuses me. Cameron has to walk on eggshells here because of the likes of this poll and it’s results.
    I do feel however that Cameron has to cement his position over gay marriage AND that of his Christianity. The two will not blend as one, no matter how the world is changing.

  7. Bill, I see Cameron as indeed trying to walk on eggshells. In this case he is trying to placate Christians by presenting gay marriage as a purely civil matter – and by backing of from calling it a fait accompli even as it remains government policy.

  8. Cameron is trying to call off the hounds by saying Hey! I’m a Christian too. Does his Mantra become ‘I’m supporting Same Sex Marriage because I’m a Christian’?
    What really bugs me is the way he is trying to tell Christians the way they should live, ie. smile and be nice.

  9. Where one stands on the resurrection of Jesus in the flesh is as close to a litmus test as we Christians have, I think, for genuine faith today. (It was no test at all in Luther’s time since he and his Papal opponents all held to the resurrection.) In this post-enlightenment and post-modern era, the resurrection of the flesh does stand out, a superstitious sore thumb for the empiricists and for those who shun any such core event within a meta-narrative: the resurrection is anathema to both the naturalist and the solipsist.

    I think you are right, Peter. Cameron is trying to fudge on this core doctrine while Obama openly embraces it, even comments on it!

    It is ironic that your [British] head of government must tread eggshells in a nation where there is a state church and yet only 10% or so practice Christian faith while my head of a constitutionally secular government and state freely expresses his faith in a country where far more than half the people profess faith and at least 30% are said to practice Christianity in some form.

    No POTUS has ever claimed to be anything but a Christian and yet we have only had a few where one got some idea that the man actually was/is. Carter’s faith found expression in office in many ways and still does today. Clinton’s claim to be a Christian drives his detractors crazy, as does Obama’s. They just do not fit with pat evangelical assumptions!

    My old mentor and teacher Francis Schaeffer used to declare “…on the other hand, liberal Christianity is not Christian at all.” Obama puts the lie to that assertion as surely as the assumption that conservative theology must yield conservative politics was overturned by the likes of Clinton and Carter.

    It is all, as Tom Wright likes to say on many subjects, more complicated than that, more deeply nuanced. I for one, am glad, as I have never fit very well within the narrow tellings of the stories. I teach Bible in various churches and in a nearby federal prison. I firmly hold to essentially Mosaic authorship of the bulk of the Pentateuch and I see two or three authors of Isaiah — go figure! I believe Jesus was deeply conservative about Torah which led him to be covertly and eventually overtly subversive of Israel’s structures and authority, planting on the earth a new order which was charged to overthrow the existing empire, by love, forgiveness, reconcilliation and truth-telling! As such, I am radically opposed to the economic imperial establishment of our time although I must make a living with in it. I am, therefore, always delighted to find a few students who are to some extent, with me, outside the usual molds.

    We live in a time of paradigmatic change, I think. Anomalies abound and they will abound.

  10. Thank you, Trace. I agree with you on the litmus test.

    I think part of the issue is that liberal Christianity is not always what its evangelical detractors think it is. Obama’s old church in Chicago, although part of a liberal denomination, is by no means stereotypically liberal: one regular visitor, John Hobbins, writes:

    I’ve never been to a service at TUCC which has unfolded without a straight-up invitation to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal Savior. Rev. Moss leaves no stone unturned in pressing everyone present to accept the invitation to dedicate one’s life to Christ and his Church. Personal conversion is the bedrock of TUCC’s transformational ethos. … The invitation is the focal point of the entire service.

  11. Gentlemen, thank you for this good discussion which enables me to re-assess my opinion of the president.

    There’s one tiny part of Obama’s message I’m unsure about – he refered to Jesus as ‘a son’ instead of ‘the son’ of God. This may simply have lacked theological precision, or was perhaps used for rhetorical rhythm?

    The particular point I picked up from our PM’s speech was his reference to and approval for a ‘Christian fight-back’. Apart from the many valid criticisms, I believe this indicates he has his finger on the pulse and can recognise what’s about to happen on various issues. In my opinion, believers in every part of Christ’s body need to stand up boldly against attacks upon His holy person and teachings.

  12. Thank you, Richard. Yes, Obama’s “a Son of God” looks a bit odd, but I doubt if it has any real significance. I’m glad that Cameron recognises that there is a “Christian fight-back”, because it will help his government to realise that it can’t ride roughshod over Christian sensibilities with impunity.

  13. Pingback: Are we clutching at straws? | Richard's Watch

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