Friday, April 6, 2012

Open letter to David Cameron

The Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

Good Friday, 2012

Dear Mr Cameron

I read with great interest your Easter message, in which you talk about the character of Jesus and values of Christianity. You have received criticism from those who think you went too far, and those who think you did not go far enough, but I for one was pleased to see you put Easter in a Christian context. I particularly noted the way that you clearly identified yourself as one of the Christians who will remember the life and sacrifice of Jesus this Easter.

So please allow me to wish you in return a happy Easter. As a Christian, you will, like me, have spent part of today contemplating the extraordinary, epoch-changing event of the crucifixion, and the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on our behalf, that the world might be redeemed. As Christians, nothing we do can be unaffected by it. Both you and I follow vocations in which our faith really ought to make a difference to the way we work. And since you have trespassed on to my territory, as it were, you will not object if I get a bit political on you.

You have firmly placed yourself in the long and notable succession of Prime Ministers who confessed themselves to be influenced by their Christian faith. Each worked that out differently in practice, but they all believed themselves not just to be Christians who were politicians, but Christian politicians. And although we cannot really agree now as to what it means to be a "Christian country", this is surely an important element of it. You too will have your own thoughts on what this means in your Premiership, but you might find it helpful to hear what I, as a Christian, would like from a Christian Prime Minister.

I don't want religious sentiment. We have enough people in the Church who can do that, admittedly some more effectively than others, but let the preachers do the preaching. It's enough for me to know that you are a Christian, without you expounding on the theme from Number 10. Your power is temporal in every possible sense, a fact that past generations of politicians understood much better than the present one. The things eternal are not within your remit, but the running of the country in the here and now is. What I want from you is Christian politics: a Government which pursues the values of justice, peace, and freedom, whatever party colour they choose to dress them up in. And a Government which encourages people to worship and live as Christians, rather than clamping down on them.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not of the persuasion that is convinced that Christians in the United Kingdom are being persecuted. I've heard too many stories of horrific persecution to believe that. In this country we are not arrested, tortured or executed for meeting together as Christians. In fact most people, even those of other faiths or none, seem to think the Christian church is a welcome part of British society. Which is why it is all the more perplexing that the policies of your Government seem to be progressively hampering the life and work of the churches in this country.

I wonder whether some of your ministers need to be brought up to speed on the "nation informed by Christian values" message, so that they can re-examine their policies accordingly. Can I draw your attention to three in particular:

Lynne Featherstone, Under Secretary of State, Equalities: Why is Ms Featherstone going to the European Court of Human Rights to fight against two women who are claiming the right to wear a crucifix at work? It is perplexing that while you, and certain other members of your cabinet, give us bullish rhetoric about people being allowed to wear crosses, you are actually attempting to enshrine in law the opposite. Maybe wearing the cross was not a fundamental aspect of modern British Christianity. But, thanks initially to BA, and lately, to your Government, it is rapidly becoming one. I'm even thinking of wearing it myself, to make a point. After all, if Good Friday tells us anything, it is that we Christians are marked by the cross of Christ. Ms Featherstone may well be creating a persecution complex for our times.

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education: Mr Gove recently declared he was going to send every school a copy of the Bible. But Church Schools, already owning large quantities of Bibles, would have been grateful for more concrete support. Last week he announced changes to the way schools are funded, and while refusing to end the system which gives preferential funding to city schools in areas of particular need, he had no problem at all with axing the protection previously given to small schools of fewer than 75 pupils, all in rural locations. This is apparently about the "market", which will no doubt be reassuring to those families who will in future have to pay to drive 10 miles or more to get to school. But not only will this devastate rural schooling, it will impact on church schools, which represent a very high percentage of small rural schools throughout the country. Richard Dawkins must be thrilled. Mr Gove has done more damage to the faith school system than the champion of secularism could ever have dreamed of.

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer: This year Mr Osborne delivered a budget which has dealt a body blow to the Church of England far worse than the self-inflicted wounds that the media often accuses it of. In adding VAT to alterations to listed buildings he increased the building bill of almost every parish church in the land by 20%. This, we were told, is correcting an anomaly. Whatever this may mean to the civil servants in their treasury offices, it means that thousands of churches will now find it very difficult to carry out their plans to make their buildings more habitable and useful in the twenty-first century. Every roof repair, every disabled access, every improvement will now be 20% more costly. We were told that the churches were integral to the Big Society. We didn't really know what that meant, but we didn't imagine it would be this.

In summary, I'd like to tell you that I don't really understand. All the rhetoric says that your Government values the church, thinks faith is important in modern society, and respects the Christian way of life. But the policies say the opposite. Cynics will say that there is an obvious explanation. But my instinct is always to be generous, and I prefer to think that you just haven't joined all the dots yet. Unfortunately, like most parish priests, I can't afford a lobbyist, so this brief communication is my best way of letting you know what it's like out here in the Christian world of 2012 Britain.

Yours sincerely


Charles Peer
Priest in Charge of St Kea
Truro, Cornwall


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