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By Matthew Barrett
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Earlier today, David Cameron gave a keynote speech to Church of England members at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

It was an unashamedly moral and pro-Christian speech. A flavour of what followed came in the introductory remarks, when Mr Cameron said "we are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so."

His speech touched on some key themes, highlighted below. 

Firstly, the Prime Minister paid tribute to the King James Bible's cultural contributions: "Along with Shakespeare, the King James Bible is a high point of the English language… Like Shakespeare, the King James translation dates from a period when the written word was intended to be read aloud. And this helps to give it a poetic power and sheer resonance that in my view is not matched by any subsequent translation."


Secondly, the Prime Minister explained the political legacy of the KJB: "The Bible runs through our political history in a way that is often not properly recognised. The history and existence of a constitutional monarchy owes much to a Bible in which Kings were anointed and sanctified with the authority of God and in which there was a clear emphasis on the respect for Royal Power and the need to maintain political order. Jesus said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And yet at the same time, the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible also provide the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy. The Torah placed the first limits on Royal Power. And the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality."

The Prime Minister extended this argument to praise the Bible's role in inspiring Christian charities: "In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that whatever people have done “unto one of the least of these my brethren” they have done unto him. Just as in the past it was the influence of the church that enabled hospitals to be built, charities created, the hungry fed, the sick nursed and the poor given shelter so today faith based groups are at the heart of modern social action. … In total, there are almost 30,000 faith-based charities in this country, not to mention the thousands of people who step forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as organisations and yes, as churches and do extraordinary things to help build a bigger, richer, stronger, more prosperous and more generous society. And when it comes to the great humanitarian crises – like the famine in Horn of Africa – again you can count on faith-based organisations like Christian Aid, Tearfund, CAFOD, Jewish Care, Islamic Relief, and Muslim Aid to be at the forefront of the action to save lives."

The Prime Minister then rejected the notion politicians shouldn't "do God", because Christianity has fundamentally shaped British civilisation. The Prime Minister said: "[A]s Margaret Thatcher once said, “we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.” Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love, pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities these are the values we treasure. Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that."

Mr Cameron continued: "But they are also values that speak to us all – to people of every faith and none. And I believe we should all stand up and defend them. Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality. They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values weare somehow doing down other faiths. And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgement on their behaviour. I think these arguments are profoundly wrong. And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people, what we stand for, and the kind of society we want to build."

He then condemned a breakdown in morality in Britain, exemplified by the riots this summer: "Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality. … And whether inspired by faith or not – that direction, that moral code, matters. Whether you look at the riots last summer, the financial crash and the expenses scandal, or the on-going terrorist threat from Islamist extremists around the world, one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality, has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots."

Mr Cameron moved on to say: Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles. To be confident in saying something is wrong is not a sign of weakness, it’s a strength. But we can’t fight something with nothing. As I’ve said if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything. One of the biggest lessons of the riots last Summer is that we’ve got stand up for our values if we are to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations. … Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism."

The Prime Minister concluded: I believe the Church of England has a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our communities. But to do so it must keep on the agenda that speaks to the whole country. The future of our country is at a pivotal moment. The values we draw from the Bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country and you, as the Church of England, can help ensure that it stays that way. 

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