David Cameron has written an ‘Easter message’ for Christians, through Premier Christianity. Bad move, Dave. Very bad move.
For a start, he’s called it an ‘Easter message’ when it’s actually just the same old defence of his government’s policies on the economy and the NHS. All fine, in it’s place. That’s what the leaders’ debates and manifestos and party political broadcasts are for. But if you’re claiming to talk about how your politics speaks to “the heart of the Christian message” and “the principle on which the Easter celebration is built”, if you want to have the interesting and valuable conversation about faith and politics, then that’s what you’ve got to do. Otherwise you’re simply co-opting a precious and deeply treasured festival for your own political purposes. And that’s exactly what Cameron has done.
Other than throwing in the words Easter and Christian every few sentences, there’s no sign of Cameron engaging with the language and images of Christian faith, no mention of Jesus or the Easter story, no thought about what the world should look like in the light of an event that shook history.
By what he’s put in and noticeably left out, it looks an awful lot like our Prime Minister is trying to claim that his policies are more central to Easter than the events of the cross and resurrection.
Part of the problem is that Cameron doesn’t really know whether he wants in on the Christian thing or not. As he’s writing to an evangelical Christian audience, he’s doing his best to come across as part of the crew, talking about how, “in the toughest of times, my faith has helped me move on and drive forward”. Which is great. But equally, he readily admits that “I’m a bit hazy on the finer points of our faith.”
It’s particularly telling that rather that wanting to be straight up about his own beliefs, he wants to make his “belief in the importance of Christianity absolutely clear.” It’s Christianity as an institution (made up of voters) that he values, not the world-transforming, life-changing, hope-bringing, awe-inspiring unstoppable love of God for all people, whether on benefits or billionaires. That’s apparently one of those “finer points” that he seems to have missed.
I’m all for ditching them-vs-us divisions, in-or-out boundaries with faith. I’m glad that David can feel free both to admit his haziness and to find personal value in faith. I wouldn’t want to judge anyone for their doubt, or lack of church-going, or whatever. But if that’s the place you find yourself in, it’s a terrible strategic move to then try to explain “the heart of the Christian message” to the audience of ‘Premier Christianity’.
And this is where his biggest mistake of all lies. Easter is infinitely more beautiful than any Tory policy could ever point to.
For Cameron, the values of Easter are “compassion, forgiveness, kindness,” – all good so far – “hard work and responsibility”. Wait, what? He concludes with “Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children.”
With all due respect, Dave, I couldn’t disagree more strongly.
A rhetoric of fair reward for ‘hard-working people’, which seems to be a buzzword of all parties in this election, might seem a good deal for the average Joe. It encourages us to think of ourselves as decent and good, compared to all those lazy types who don’t work (because they’re ill or disabled? because they care for children? because they can’t find a job?) who don’t deserve a proper standard of living.
Maybe that’s what voters want to hear. But there’s no way that it’s the message of Easter.
There’s nothing about being moral and worthy and decent at Easter. The story of the crucifixion shows up the very worst in us. In all of us. It’s not about the decent, hardworking average Joe. There’s a crowd baying for blood, there’s friends who run away, there’s fear and lies and betrayal, there’s weakness and failure, there’s humiliation, spite and torture. We can’t look at the events of Jesus’ death, and not see ourselves in the characters we find there. In the story of the crucifixion, we’re forced to confront our own potential for great evil. It was the human condition that killed Jesus.
But even more than that, Easter is about the irresponsible, offensive, lavish love of God for us who could do such a thing. It’s about the dying Jesus who in a heartbeat rewarded a criminal with paradise, without any hard work required. It’s about undeserved forgiveness for those who hadn’t even finished executing him, let alone thought to say sorry.
It’s about triumph of generosity over worthiness. It’s about grace being stronger than death. It’s about undeserved compassion of the highest order. It’s about outrageous forgiveness, outlandish sacrifice, and reckless love.
If you want the Christian vote David, I suggest you fill your manifesto with that.