“Thanks for the Easter message, Dave. But if you’re such a good Christian, why are so many people in Britain using food banks?” asked Grace Dent in the Independent on Tuesday.
What on earth has David Cameron’s Christianity got to do with the number of people using foodbanks?
Because Dent goes on to say: “If you don’t believe that the hungry should be fed unconditionally because all human life is important, and in fact they should starve, then – quite bluntly – you’re not a Christian, so shut up about being one.”
This theological tour de force originates from the miracle recorded in the gospels of Jesus feeding the 5,000. The logic, if you can call it that, is that if Jesus did that as part of his ministry, and David Cameron claims to follow Jesus, then why isn’t Cameron giving out food at the local foodbank rather than sitting in 10 Downing Street?
The feeding of the 5,000 was a miracle; it was a disruption from the norm. There were hungry people in Galilee on other days but he didn’t stay there multiplying fish and loaves. I want the hungry to be fed, but I don’t think handing out food is a lasting solution and that’s what politicians disagree over. I do not believe David Cameron wants the hungry to starve, I think he wants to do something about it, but perhaps not the same thing you’d have him do.
The work of foodbanks, debt advice centres, Street Pastors and the countless visible and invisible ways churches serve their communities are vibrant outworkings of the faith of Christians. But that’s not what Christianity is about.
It’s not about the good things that I do or the bad things someone else does. This is where I get evangelical about the Christian faith. It is about knowing Jesus died and rose again and he did it to secure salvation for those who put their trust in him.
When we let the Christian faith be described as Grace Dent has, or personal belief questioned like this, we’re letting politics define relationship with God. Tim Minchin, one of the signatories to the letter calling Cameron’s Easter comments divisive, makes clear his main issue is that David Cameron isn’t socialist whereas Jesus is (according to him). The authenticity of someone’s faith becomes defined by whether we sign up to a political platform.
Faith in Jesus is a personal decision but with a public outworking, it makes a difference to our priorities and our principles, it pushes us to love justice and mercy, to act with kindness and forgiveness. The gospel challenges us to put our faith in Jesus, and it calls us to live a life that follows him.
Matthew 25 verses 31-46 is the familiar parable of the sheep and the goat, that those who enter God’s kingdom will be told that every time they fed the hungry, clothed the naked or sheltered the homeless, they did it for Jesus. It was a provocative challenge to his audience then and it is now. We are called to give with a mercy that cannot be contained.
But I’m also reminded of when the woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus by Pharisees eager to either see her stoned or catch Jesus condoning her sinful activity. Their win-win situation turned out to spectacularly backfire as Jesus asks the one without sin to cast the first stone. And they walk away.
Before I take the stone I am turning in my hand and hurl it towards toward the prime minister I have to ask whether I am doing everything I can to follow the call in Matthew 25.
And I am not.
Each day my compassion is circumscribed, each day my kindness is limited, my love conditioned.
I know the actions of Christians put people off coming to church, but if that’s where they are looking for the Christ figure then they are going to be disappointed. No Christian politician, no church leader, no follower of Jesus will persuade someone of the gospel’s truth by their ability to live out what their faith demands. That’s why we look to Jesus.
(picture via Wikimedia)