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A Christian Nation

This Easter video from British Prime Minister David Cameron has been circulating on Facebook this month, although it appears to have been recorded a year ago. The video has also been promoted on a couple of websites, the Conservative Tribune and the Conservative Post. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to guess what those two sites have in common.

The Conservative Tribune includes the video in an article titled "BREAKING: UK’s Prime Minister Defies Obama, Makes Huge Announcement About Christianity".

But in fact, there's not much news in Cameron's message, and there's absolutely nothing about U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Tribune makes a big deal about the contrast between Cameron's assertion that Great Britain is a Christian nation and Obama's lack of such an assertion on behalf of the United States. But in both cases the national leaders are simply recognizing the political reality. Britian is a Christian nation in a way that the U.S. has never been. The British government and the Church of England are intertwined in a way that would never be tolerated in the U.S.

Anglican Bishops are appointed to their office by the monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth) on the advice of the Prime Minister. In turn, the Bishops are entitled to 26 votes in the House of Lords. They don't often display enough power to change the outcome of a vote, but the fact that they are allowed a vote at all shows the difference between the two nations' approaches to church and state. So too does the fact that any changes to church policy require approval by Parliament and the Queen. In some caseschurch decisions have been made under pressure from Parliament.

But despite (or perhaps because of) official government support for Christianity, Britian has fewer Christians than the U.S. About 70% of Americans identify as Christian, but only 60% of Britons do. And in terms of church attendance, the difference is even more stark. On a typical weekend, about 40% of Americans attend church, versus only 12% of Britons. A case could be made that government support has actually weakened the church.

And that's one reason some British Christians have called for disestablishment of the Church of England. Former Archbishop Rowan Williams said in 2000 (before his election as Archbishop):

I think that the notion of the monarch as supreme governor has outlived its usefulness. I believe increasingly that the church has to earn the right to be heard by the social world. Establishment is just one of those things that make it slightly harder.

If American conservatives knew this, they might not be so eager to emulate the British system here.

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