Of presidents and prime ministers who talk of faith
Obama in America and Cameron in Britain have spoken of how their Christian faith influences their approach to shaping society. The US presidential campaign is also skirting church-state issues. How much should religion and politics mix?
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Even liberal Catholics, many of whom differ from the church’s views on contraception, say Obama went too far in threatening hefty fines against a private group that doesn’t serve his view on how to meet society’s health needs.Skip to next paragraph
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This church-state controversy may color a big Supreme Court decision. The court will likely rule by June on whether the health law’s mandate for Americans to buy medical insurance violates individual liberty, such as a person’s reliance solely on prayer for healing.
Obama’s speech at the prayer breakfast was also seen as one of the most political by any president at such events. He cited the Bible as a basis for his policies, such as his desire to end tax breaks for the wealthy and his decision to deploy marines to Uganda. The president spoke of how his daily prayers as “leader of this great nation” influence the values behind his economic proposals. He hopes the nation would return to the values he cites in the Bible in hopes “that God will buttress [the nation’s] efforts.”
Cameron, in contrast, emphasized in his speech in December just how much each individual in Britain, with its strong Christian tradition, should support faith-based groups. He said charities first formed the welfare state and remain “at the heart of modern social action.” He cited the more than 30,000 groups that “help build a bigger, richer, stronger, more prosperous and more generous society.”
In these two speeches, Cameron and Obama stepped gently across the church-state divide, reminding both countries of their Christian heritage while offering differing views on how the Bible can influence public action.
Yet both men also noted the need for humility in promoting religious views. “The tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too,” the prime minster said.
The call to serve others does indeed start with the freedom to choose a calling for oneself. From that standpoint, through either charity or government or both, each person’s love for humanity can be expressed.