David Cameron, Britain’s Prime Minister, has proclaimed that Britain is still “a Christian country” and ought to be glad to honour its Christian heritage, recognising that it is in fact this heritage which ensures tolerance and good will so that many faiths can flourish. He’s right to say this sort of thing, and he has received a good measure of support and enthusiasm for saying it.
Inevitably, however, there is voice in many of us which also says, “Oh, come off it, Dave!” We should indeed be glad and proud to honour our Judeo-Christian roots, traditions and heritage – and as Prime Minister Mr Cameron is well-placed to do that. But it’s deeds, not words, that matter here. There could be no more certain and emphatic way of denigrating our spiritual heritage, and of wrecking it for the future, than bashing marriage — by passing a law that will rewrite the timeless truth that marriage is the lifelong bond between a man and a woman that begets children and creates a new family. And that is exactly what Mr Cameron and his government are planning to do as 2012 opens by sealing into law the fiction that two people of the same sex can marry.
And there’s more. Christianity has always and everywhere taught that deliberately killing a child in the womb is wrong. In 1967, Britain, to her lasting shame, abandoned this principle – incidentally one which is echoed by all the world’s main faiths and by the great tradition of medical ethics in the West – with the Abortion Act which came into force in 1968. There have been numerous attempts to ameliorate its more hideous provisions – it effectively has established abortion on demand, despite the assurances given at the time that this would not occur – but Mr Cameron’s government has made clear its opposition to any such hopes. So the horrible killing of our unborn child goes on, and with it the destruction of our future. Britain, along with the rest of Europe, is dying, literally; our birth-rate is below replacement level, and year by year the problem of a shrinking population attempting to care for its frail and ageing parents and grandparents becomes greater and greater.
Poor Mr Cameron. It’s great that he gives us some headlines which will, for a little while – and over Christmas at that – make some people feel a lot better. A rousing statement about our Christian traditions, coupled with a suitable humility about one’s own level of church attendance and knowledge of doctrine, is not without its value. It cheers people up, sets a useful tone which binds us to the best of our heritage, and shows respect for the things that really matter. And we are living in tough times, so it is right to look to great spiritual truth and draw strength from them. But we do need more.
We need a clear and forthright assurance, written into the law, that Christian – and Jewish and other – places of worship will have complete freedom to uphold their own teachings on marriage. No religious group or institution should be forced to promote, teach, or carry out, any form of same-sex union.
Our Christian traditions are precious to us. But there is a major question-mark over them at the moment, and as Prime Minister Mr C has to do more than make seasonal appropriate noises on the subject. Freedom of religion is a fundamental freedom – without it, other freedoms crumble. No one should be forced or coerced into doing something which intrudes on that sacred space which is the human conscience. In Britain, ours has been formed by centuries of Judeo-Christian living and working and suffering and believing and coping. We have learned – often the hard way – how precious is freedom. We know now, and need to be reminded regularly, that good intentions and fine words are often simply not enough to secure freedoms and fundamental rights.
So here’s my speech to our PM:
Dear Mr Cameron: Please preach what you practise, and practise what you preach. You are a man of moderate Anglican beliefs and ideas. You enjoin tolerance, you worship God from time to time, you try to teach your own children a good way to live and you send them to a Church of England school. When Pope Benedict came to Britain you spoke powerfully and movingly about the beauty and importance of the Christian message that he taught.
You are faithfully married and have shown public gratitude to your own parents and paid tribute to the values of traditional family life. It is grand that you have spoken out in celebration of the Christian heritage that formed your intellectual, cultural and spiritual background and provided the civilisation in which you live and work and try to serve the public interest.
Now go on and uphold these values in the great and everyday practicalities of law and governance. Britain has indeed a noble heritage. Don’t smash it.
Joanna Bogle writes from London.