With David Burrowes MP, I founded the Conservative Christian Fellowship in 1990. With that declaration of interest out of the way I hope readers will forgive me if I use this post to disagree with Michael Portillo’s piece in The Sunday Times: ‘If God is talking to you, too, Mr Cameron – don’t listen.’ Do read all of Mr Portillo’s article but here is a key section:
"I worry because men of power who take instruction from unseen forces are essentially fanatics… Those who look for judgment not from the electorate or parliament or a free press but from God release themselves from the constraints of democracy."
A few quick responses as I’m dashing off for Sunday lunch (roast lamb!):
- The greatest killers of the last century weren’t religious "fanatics" but atheists. I think of Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot.
- Not all religions are the same. Some religions are defined by the teaching of forgiveness and peacefulness. Others are more open to interpretations that lead to violence.
- It’s a bit rich for Mr Portillo to imply that Christian leaders like Bush and Blair want to "release themselves from the constraints of democracy." Both men have been more successful voter-getters than Mr Portillo. I’d rather have a leader that felt a deep sense of accountability to his maker than someone who thought he could get away with anything if noone was looking.
- Christian men have been at the forefront of many of the great reforms of our times. I think of William Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery (something Mr Portillo acknowledges) but also Shaftesbury’s educational and mental health missions and, more recently, Martin Luther King’s civil rights campaigns. In the Conservative Party today it is interesting that many of the great compassionate causes are being led by Christians – think of social justice (IDS), international development (Peter Lilley), combating domestic violence (Caroline Spelman) and international human rights (Gary Streeter and Ben Rogers).
- Britain is much richer for the involvement of Christians in public life. Christian schools generally outperform secular schools and a disproportionate share of the country’s charities and volunteers are faith-inspired.
- If you want to understand philanthropy you have to understand the ‘God factor.’ A recent analysis of giving in the US proved that religious motivations were more powerful than any other factor in determining generosity.
Are Christians perfect? Of course not and there are many Christians who would would make bad governors but the overwhelming contribution of Christianity to public life is beneficial.