Obama v Cameron: Who really loves Jesus?


Ok, ok I know we're not meant to judge the hearts of men, but my social media feeds are full of it. Americans are heralding the British Prime Minister for doing what their own leader has seemingly failed to do – standing up for the place of Christianity in our nation.

President Obama's Passover and Easter message on Saturday certainly didn't go down well, seen as an interfaith mash-up that was generally felt to appeal to everyone and speak to no-one. And his second Easter message, at yesterday's Easter Prayer Breakfast, has also faced criticism from Christians because he included an aside about the un-loving way in which Christians sometimes approach him.

Perhaps this is a classic case of things being greener on the other side. But let's stop for a moment and look at what they actually said.

David Cameron's Easter message was not thanking God for Christ's sacrifice, it was thanksgiving to God (perhaps) for Christians' sacrifice – for the love, support and selflessness of church communities, the Big Society by any other name.

"Easter is a time for Christians to celebrate the ultimate triumph of life over death in the resurrection of Jesus. And for all of us, it's a time to reflect on the part that Christianity plays in our national life," the prime minister said.

"The church is not just a collection of beautiful, old buildings; it is a living, active force doing great works right across our country. When people are homeless, the church is there with hot meals and shelter. When people are addicted or in debt, when people are suffering or grieving, the church is there."

There's nothing wrong with that. I think it's great that he's paused to reflect at Easter on the fact that it's a Christian festival, which, amid all the Easter egg hunting, can get a bit confused. I haven't forgotten the privilege of living in a nation where he's allowed to do that. And I'm really glad that he used the opportunity to speak about the plight of those persecuted for their faith.

But pointing out that at this time of year Christians celebrate the resurrection isn't exactly mind blowing. And he didn't say Jesus or the Word of God is a living, active force in the nation, he said the Church was living and active. That's great, but it is God's power at work in and through us – isn't it?

I also can't help but feel that there was an ulterior motive in what Cameron said. It strikes me that this was a prime opportunity to appeal to Christians (who we know are a politically engaged bunch), and make the most of being the only leader of the major parties with an acknowledged Christian faith.

Cameron said: "I know from the most difficult times in my own life that the kindness of the church can be a huge comfort." The cynic in me wants to say that again while it is wonderful that he has known the love of the Church, the most important thing would be to know the love of God.

It's not quite on a par with the Queen's annual reminder of the love of Christ in the Christmas message, that's all I'm saying – and even she has stepped it up a notch in recent years. In 2013 Christians got rather excited when, after the usual survey of the year in the royal calendar, she essentially started preaching the gospel to an audience of millions watching slumped on the sofa after lunch.

The Queen said: "For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God's love, as we strive daily to become better people. The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach."

By comparison, although the President's Passover and Easter message didn't quite hit the mark, he did say that he would spend Easter Sunday "reflecting on the sacrifice of God's only son, who endured agony on the cross so that we could live together with him". Admittedly, he did then focus on the hope of the Easter season; a hope shared by all Americans who believe that "with common effort and shared sacrifice, our brighter future is just around the bend."

But, far more unreasonably, Obama is facing a fair amount of flak again today for questioning whether everything Christians say is particularly Christ-like. He called on Christians to follow Christ's example and said in an aside: "As a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned. But that's a topic for another day."

But what he said about Easter was clearly far more personal, far more about Christ than anything Cameron said: "For me, the celebration of Easter puts our earthly concerns into perspective. With humility and with awe, we give thanks to the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Saviour. We reflect on the brutal pain that he suffered, the scorn that He absorbed, the sins that he bore, this extraordinary gift of salvation that he gave to us. And we try, as best we can, to comprehend the darkness that He endured so that we might receive God's light.

"And yet, even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus's sacrifice, on Easter we can't lose sight of the fact that the story didn't end on Friday. The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious Resurrection of our Saviour."

Admittedly, he was speaking to a Christian audience, and so the emphasis was somewhat different, but these things are not confined to the audience in the room.

Now I don't want to step into a party political debate here, though that's hard to avoid. But one isn't an angel and the other isn't an animal. They are both politicians, and both seem to have some form of Christian faith – how much is anyone's guess. And so dear friends over the pond, it isn't so green over here. Make the most of what you have and pray for leaders of all colours to know the love of God.