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Is David Cameron Representative of Many Members of the Church of England?


Can we for the moment put aside criticism of the present government’s social policies and ask, instead, why David Cameron used the occasion of an event to mark the end of a year’s celebration of the King James version of the bible to celebrate the role of the KJV in our national life? Context is all.

Cameron’s Christianity

He has been mocked for describing himself as:

…a committed – but I have to say vaguely practising – Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith…but who is full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues.

Does this not remind you of:

Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief (Mark 9:23-25)

Of course, I have no inside information about David Cameron’s faith, but his statement reads to me like someone who wants to believe, who does at heart believe, but perhaps struggles with the problem of pain and evil, having suffered the death of his young son. Canon Brian Mountford offers this reflection in a recently broadcast service:

In English literature, too, we find evidence of religious doubt which is protesting but loyal. Philip Davis, Professor of English at Liverpool University, observes that in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’…when Evangelist points the Man, the potential Christian, to the way of salvation, he asks, ‘Do you see yonder Wicket-gate?’ Bunyan simply writes, ‘The Man said, No’. But it is not an angry, anti-religion ‘no’. He knows the right answer would be yes, but reluctantly he has to be truthful and say no. Then he is given a second chance by Evangelist who asks, ‘Do you see yonder shining light?’ Of course, a St Paul or a Billy Graham might say, ‘Hallelujah, yes, I see the light,’ but the Man manages a less than certain, ‘I think I do’. However underwhelming that may feel, it’s nevertheless a form of belief and perhaps the very essence of belief. It’s positive and has the same ring as ‘help thou mine unbelief’. Davis cites other examples, including the mighty Luther who declares, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.’


 The Church of England and English Political Life

Professor Owen Chadwick described in 1960 the historic relationship that grew up between landowner and parson – the world of Anthony Trollope:

‘Until yesterday, as it seems, the squire and the country parson were with us, the rulers of the parish in their different spheres. The manor-house would stand near the church, and sometimes the villagers, living outside the park, needed to pass through the park to their Sunday services. In its dim origins the country church had often been a chapel which the lord had founded and of which he was proprietor. In the earliest days the distinction between the landlord’s private chaplain and the vicar of the landlord’s parish had been blurred. But then the lawyers recognised the parson to have such a free-hold of his benefice that he could not be ejected without a court of law; and once the parson could not be dismissed, even by his landlord, there were two independent powers in the parish, and we have the relationship between squire and parson familiar to English history and the English novel.’

This is partly what we mean when we say the Church of England is the established, national Church. Individual parsons and squires would manage rural affairs between them. Of course, life is no longer like that but it is part of our history.

The Church of England would perhaps no longer welcome this arrangement as altogether too cosy, but to me the idea that the government of the day should sit down with the Church to discuss how to handle some of the problems that face us has definite appeal.

The Digital Nun recently signalled the increasing use of the phrase ‘the right thing to do’ by our politicians. She points out that moral decisions are rarely as simple as the phrase suggests. However, at least they are trying – rather like Queen Victoria promising to be good.

Muslim Appreciation of this view

The BBC quotes reactions to David Cameron’s speech, including this one by Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a member of the Muslim Council of Britain and an imam in Leicester (the bolding is mine).

“It’s very seldom I get excited by what our prime minister has to say and this is one of those times. As Muslims we also believe in the Bible. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. Not only that, but in the teachings of all the biblical prophets, including Moses in the Torah. So this is something that we feel is absolutely in tune with the Muslim thinking. We have to base our behaviour according to scripture, God’s revealed message. “For a long time Muslims have been trying to express this idea, that for us as Muslims Islam is not just a religion but a way of life. To divorce politics from religion is not something we are able to do, we cannot leave our religion at home or in the mosques, it comes with us wherever we go. So it’s refreshing to hear the prime minister say Christians should do the same. I agree Britain is the best country for Muslims to live in, at least in Europe.


Please also ‘contrast and compare’ Will Cookson’s excellent blog on this subject at:

Also Bishop Nick Baines of Bradford, who writes at:

And Edward Green at

Elizaphanian writes: David Cameron’s Christianity, or: why conservatives can support the Occupy movement


Phil Ritchie tells us of Screwtape’s reaction:



The view of St Martin’s in the Fields from Trafalgar Square is by Anibal Trejo via Shutterstock. The intention is not to suggest that our Prime Minister is to be compared to the king of the jungle, but rather that he represents the religious stance of many Englishmen.

11 comments on this post:


This is fascinating stuff. Where do the English stand on religion? What do they believe? At the risk of repeating myself, the late Gareth Bennett’s essay “The Englishman’s View of the Clergy” is enlightening.

More on this, please.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this, Stephen. (I will try to satisfy your demand for more. Though I am a little uneasy at being this political, I felt it needed to be said).
I am interested in your reference to Gareth Bennett – Google has enlightened me to a degree, but I need to track down a copy of his essay.


I started off determined to avoid politics – but couldn’t help myself. I make a point of following/reading those with whom I instinctively don’t agree, and trust others will indulge me similarly. And you will always be restrained and courteous.

I have GB’s book in which the essay appears, so will send it to you if you can’t track it down.

BTW, isn’t Sheikh Mogra’s sentiment about Britain a huge compliment? We shouldn’t be afraid to accept it graciously.

17 December 2011 21:29
17 December 2011 21:09
17 December 2011 19:09
Kathryn de Belle said...

I watched the imam on the News and loved it. I wonder if the BBC expected him to say what he did.

As for Cameron, his speech has been distorted by the media taking bits out of context, but I am disturbed by the very idea of him talking about being a
Christian. It is not possible for me to set aside current social policies.

I love the quotation, “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief”, it has long been a source of consolation, but I find it hard to believe that it can be applied in
this case.

Yes, he has been misrepresented, but did he write it himself anyway? That’s a genuine question. I don’t know.

Lay Anglicana said...

To take your last point first, I should imagine David Cameron instructed a speechwriter in general terms what he wanted to say, and then tweaked a draft into a form of words which he felt he could use. At this stage of his premiership, I would imagine the speechwriters are pretty good at guessing what he would feel comfortable with.

Am I right in inferring that you have difficulty in regarding Cameron as sincere in what he says about Christianity, in view of the difficult decisions being made about social policy? (This is the tenor of many of the remarks on Twitter). I think the explanation may be that it is just not feasible or wise to make political decisions based purely on moral considerations. Our one attempt to do so, in the 17th century ‘Parliament of the Saints’ ('s_Parliament)was a notable failure. Of course, we are now getting into political debate, and I am guessing that we may disagree, but personally I am happy to accept that Cameron is acting in what he sincerely believes to be the best medium- and long-term interests of the country. Whether or not he is right in this belief, however, is a fair subject of debate.

17 December 2011 21:00
17 December 2011 20:02
Kathryn de Belle said...

Yes, your inference is the right one. Politics can’t be kept out of it. I don’t believe Cameron acts, or even thinks he acts, for the best interests of the majority. If he does think so, he must be living on a different plane. Or planet. I won’t say any more, because we are clearly galaxies apart on this.

17 December 2011 21:23
Richard Haggis said...

It might be arguable that there is no such thing as “an insincere Anglican”. A cruel wag once said – it was quoted in an article about the late Gary Bennett, as it happens – that “The church of England is a marvellous church in which it is possible for anyone to believe anything, but no one actually does.” Mr Cameron obviously finds Dr Williams’s socialism annoying, but there’s really no getting away from the camel and the eye of the needle, and when it comes to those rich men, Mr Cameron and his fellow Sons of Thatcher have been neglecting the spiritual welfare of the rich quite badly. Those who will not pay out of the goodness of their hearts (thus earning remission from taxation), must be compelled to pay, for the sake of their immortal souls. As Andrew Carnegie said (and he was worth a bob or two) “it would be a sin and a disgrace to die a rich man”. If that’s the sort of Christianity Mr Cameron is after, Dr Williams and he are at one.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Richard. I agree with Andrew Carnegie, but wasn’t he a Scot and therefore not a member of this curious Church of ours? I’m not being deliberately offensive in describing the Church of England as curious- I value its oddities. I am just not sure that you would ever come up with it if you were setting out to create a denomination from scratch!

I think Carnegie had ‘caught’ the American mindset. Not having a nobility to speak of, they interpreted ‘noblesse oblige’ as an obligation on the rich to philanthropy. Now we just need the British to get the idea – do you feel a blog post coming on by any chance?

18 December 2011 07:51
18 December 2011 00:17
UKViewer said...

Just wondering if our good manners and tolerance are tested by a politician, rather vaguely, ‘doing God’.

DC speaks of his basically Anglican leanings, but without any conviction. Perhaps it might be described as good old, honest doubt? Something discussed on Edward Green’s excellent post.

I actually think that he is a classic Anglican Fudge – a compromise between rampant secularism and a vague feeling that there must be something more, ‘if only I could put my finger on it’.

Eric Pickles is another politician who is not afraid to at least comment on faith matters, even though, he doesn’t show that much evidence in his policy dealings of Christian ethics. He’s recently backed Bideford Town Council’s right to have prayers before Council meetings, against the wishes of the NSS, who are supporting an action by a former councillor, who claims he was discriminated against as he didn’t wish to have prayers said, in what he considered to be a purely political, secular context.

I for one can’t separate religion and politics and the people you highlight here, can’t either. Richard makes a good point about educating the rich to become more ‘giving’ with their hidden riches, particularly when such donations can be gift aided (and are probably tax deductible).

I would love Bankers being obliged to give the taxable proportion of their bonuses to a suitable charity, rather than the tax man – at least it would do some good, rather than swelling the government’s tax coffers.

And as for Dr Williams left wing tendencies, they were well known before he was appointed, and why should his position mean that he should change his politics? Off course, he might be more generous to his fellow Anglicans, and stop trying to impose a typical, Right Wing top cover on the whole Anglican Communion.

Lay Anglicana said...

Lots to unpack here, as they say!
I am not sure that we know enough about Cameron’s beliefs from what he has said to describe him as a classic Anglican fudge. Even if you think I am interpreting his words too favourably, he does talk about grappling with deep theological questions. I offer one reason why this might be the case – there may be others.
I am not suggesting that we separate religion and politics (and nor is Cameron). All I am asking is that you put aside whether you agree with his policies or not in deciding on his Christianity.
Take any organisation, the army for example. One would certainly hope that moral considerations come into play, perhaps explicitly Christian ones. But in deciding how to wage a military campaign, you would have to weigh many other factors as well – you cannot fight battles based solely on religious beliefs.
Similarly, I believe in politics that it would be irresponsible not to take, for example, economic factors into account.
Your Mileage May, of course, Vary!

19 December 2011 17:10
18 December 2011 19:28
Erika Baker said...

Thank you Laura!

Left wing politics and socialism aren’t the same thing.
And it is quite possible to be conservative while believing that a capitalist society is a good basic mechanism to generate the wealth that should then be used for the good of everyone.
Have we still not grown out of the childish “capitalism – bad and selfish, socialism – good and moral” simplicity?

We live in a social market economy in which most political parties argue about how to best generate wealth and then how much money to redistribute and about how to do it most effectively.
Not many are arguing for unrestrained capitalism or for socialism/communism. And there are white sheep and black sheep among all political colours.

I might disagree with Cameron’s politics (indeed, I disagree with quite a few), but I’m really angry about all those “Christians” who also confuse religion with politics and who dismiss the morals of a man simply because they don’t agree with him.

Whether he’s by any measure a “real” Christian will be for God to judge. I’m shocked at how many claim to be able to do in His place.

Cameron hasn’t shown us the unpleasant side of politicians using faith for their own purpose as much as the deeply unpleasant side of Christians who will dismiss everyone and everything that doesn’t meet their own definitions of “proper” faith.

(As always – present company excepted)

19 December 2011 10:29

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