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David Cameron: Zacchaeus Reborn?

23/04/2014 11:18 BST | Updated 22/06/2014 10:59 BST

This is definitely not the last we will hear of David Cameron's evangelical Christian faith. An impending election normally evokes candidate affirmations of belief and spirituality, they are as inevitable as awkward baby cradling photo opportunities and nostalgic sauntering through home towns. It's probably a little too soon for the mawkish stills of Cameron praying at mass; in the meantime we have been blessed with proclamations of his love for Jesus' work.

While Miliband rediscovers his Jewish roots and Clegg contemplates the inevitable atheist (and probably political) oblivion, shoring up approval ratings amongst the Christian herd is an open goal Cameron won't want to miss. Maybe his piety is sincere. Maybe this superficial outpouring of faith is borne out of the same enlightenment that so enthralled Zacchaeus. Maybe miracles really do happen.

Cameron's sincerity isn't the issue here though - in this instance it isn't unfair to say he has none, it's political manoeuvring at its most palpable. The real question is whether it is in the church's best interests to succumb to his seductive eulogy.

The irony of Cameron's declaration has been well documented. A fan of Jesus' 'Big Society' he may be, what he is carving out in modern-day Britain would enrage our Lord and Saviour; goading him to storm the banks on canary wharf, lambast the negligent city boys and upend their computer terminals. I don't remember too much from the compulsory days of Sunday school, but the poignancy and uncharacteristic nature of Jesus' fury at the temple resonated. Greed was the antithesis of his message; inequality the epitome of human failure.

Jesus may not be around to feed the masses with a few humble loaves and the odd fish, but his contemporary disciples are performing culinary miracles on a much larger scale (albeit without the help of artificial cloning, or whatever it was he did to proliferate supplies). Christian organisation, the Trussell Trust, is the largest of Britain's highly publicised food banks, which seek to help the 13 million citizens living in poverty. Food banks fed just shy of 1 million people in 2013-2014. They embody the charitable aspirations of Christianity - Jesus' 'Big Society'.

Remarkably though, the commendable (and necessary) work by the Trussell Trust has often been scrutinised by Cameron's government. The Department for Work and Pensions clearly didn't get the 'pro-Christian' memo from the boss last week, with comments made by senior sources painting the charity as conspiratorial attention-seekers, akin to predatory capitalists, interested only in furthering the brand.

Iain Duncan Smith launched the crusade earlier in the year with accusations of scaremongering, resisting calls for a sit-down to discuss the crisis. The war of words showed little signs of abating until Cameron magnanimously agreed to attend a private (and very frank) meeting, calmly pacifying tensions like Jesus himself.

It's a pattern that will likely continue - ground level charities criticise the government's indelible role in exacerbating inequality, the conservatives retaliate aggressively and Cameron appeases believers with saccharine sentiments on Christ and a 'hands-on' façade. The discordance between conservative policy and fundamental Christian values will take some duplicitous political handiwork to mask. Expect to see more of the 'good cop bad cop' routine - Cameron giveth, the rest taketh away.

Voting for a candidate is easier if you feel a connection, if you feel they hold a similar 'moral code'. So long as Cameron outwardly expresses his Christianity, the hope is that institutional failings to protect the vulnerable will be ignored by the faithful.

It's a gimmick that may yet work for marginalised traditionalists. Reversing the roles, it was Cameron who battled with evangelicals, championing equal marriage, and it was conservative MPs who offered significant opposition to the bill, many in the name of God. Cameron's flattery is brazen appeasement towards an increasingly alienated church, an olive branch to those he has ostracised.

Speaking of Christian persecution, of revitalising the country's Christian image and of expanding the role of faith based organisations, Cameron's endgame is clear - a vote for me is a vote for Christian empowerment.

But in an economy where the UK's 100 wealthiest citizens have as much as the poorest 18 million, where food banks are the only source of nourishment for so many and where nearly a third of children live in poverty, are Christian's really prepared to further undermine ideology for the sake of maintaining status quo? At the ballot, they will need to ask themselves what's more important: the vulnerable in society and the parishioners who uphold these traditions or the traditions themselves?

Put simply -what would Jesus do?