Theology in the U.K.


Thanks to Our Man In Scotland, we hear of a developing flap in Britain over religion and the public square.  Normally the purview of ILYBYGTH runs only to the US borders, but this case seems so relevant we felt obliged to comment.

Yesterday a collection of fifty high-brow British intellectuals signed a public letter.  They objected to Prime Minister David Cameron’s repeated assertion that Britain is a “Christian country.”  A few days back, Cameron wrote in Church Times, an Anglican newspaper,

I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.

In Britain, such comments led to much public gnashing of teeth.  Some pundits assumed Cameron was hoping to shore up his rightward flank against the cultural traditionalism of the UK Independence Party.  Other public figures rushed to defend Cameron’s bold assertion of public faith.

To be frank, this British kerfuffle has us scratching our heads.  In the US of A, nearly all public figures vying for national office make loud and proud attestations of their personal faith.  Even President Obama, no conservative, repeatedly publicizes his Christian practice.  As OMIS pointed out,

if you want to be in public office in America, you have to say [that this is a Christian country], but over here it’s considered a “row.”

Even more puzzling, a quick google search netted similar statements from Cameron going back at least as far as December 2011.  In a speech back then, Cameron seemed to say the same sorts of thing that are causing such consternation today.  “We are a Christian country,” Cameron told an audience at Oxford on 16 December 2011,

and we should not be afraid to say so. . . . the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.

So how is his recent statement any different?  Why did people complain now, and not then?



Leave a comment


  1. “So how is his recent statement any different? Why did people complain now, and not then?”

    No idea. If I’m not mistaken, Britain still does have a state religion, no? So saying that Britain is a “Christian nation” is more a statement of fact, whereas saying such a thing about the United States is more of a historical / cultural opinion.

    • bmiller

       /  April 28, 2014

      Britain is a Christian nation in an historical/cultural sense, and what the letter writers mentioned in the original post described as a “narrow constitutional sense” – we have an established church. But an established church does not a Christian nation make; the public are largely secular in outlook, including those who self-identify as religious on the census.

      I think it’s making more of a splash now because it’s more topical, given the current spotlight on UKIP. Further, unlike the comments in Oxford a few years ago, these comments are part of a series (for example, Cameron recently declared his austerity measures to be Jesus’ idea).

      Further context: the use of food banks has exploded under the current government, and the same weekend Cameron made these comments, his office called the police in order to block the delivery of an open letter to his office by the Bishop of Oxford. (

      My own thought is that these comments are more provocative because they are more transparently cynical and made more publicly than those a few years ago.


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