'It'd be ironic if you now started a Pray For Cameron movement,' a friend said to me recently. It shouldn't be, of course. I'm a Christian. Praying for the people we dislike is repeatedly commanded by Jesus. And not, irritatingly, in the 'Oh Lord, please take Mr Cameron home to be with you' sort of way. No. We're supposed to pray for blessings and protection and all the things we'd pray for those we love. Actually, we're commanded to love the people we dislike, too. When atheists say that religion's primary purpose is to provide comfort for we feeble-minded fools who follow it, they should really consider this fact. Of course, most of us don't do it.
That's one reason why Christianity gets so much stick. I've often thought that criticising Christianity for that is like blaming accurate but ignored cartographers for ending up in Blackpool or Karl Marx for Joseph Stalin. The fact remains, though, that I find it hard to love and pray for those I strongly dislike. Like David Cameron.
I found myself reading yet another one of his meditations on Broken Britain (TM) last week and finding it hard not to hate the man. I know, I know, as a Christian that is an outrageous thing to admit. But admit it I must. His response in the Express on Sunday to the recent riots was titled: David Cameron: Human Rights In My Sights. Yes, Human Rights: they're the real enemy. Good grief.
I have written before of how the Cameron government has used the economic disaster the way Naomi Klein describes American neo-cons using disasters like Hurricane Katrina to push through radical privatisation programmes that take public assets out of the hands of the people and put them into the pockets of big business. And our beloved Prime Minister seems now to be trying to use the disaster of the riots to push through some right-wing lurches on human and individual rights while we're all too punch-drunk, frightened and angry to notice. All the while, continuing his programme of selling off our public services to private owners.
I felt thoroughly justified in admitting to my friend that I was finding it hard not to hate Mr Cameron. He replied with beautiful Christ-like logic: 'That's a clear call to pray for him.' What a brilliant idea! If only Jesus had mentioned something about that 2,000 years ago! If only I'd read it hundreds of times and quoted it in a righteous tone, to people other than myself many, many times...
All rather embarrassing.
So I did. I prayed for Mr Cameron. I mostly prayed that he would have a softening of heart and a change of mind about the policies I disagree with, I admit, but, you know: baby steps. And as I prayed I found it increasingly difficult to hate the man. The lesson is so obvious it makes me feel quite stupid. And it is particularly hard in the world of politics.
Look, for instance, at the USA. The 'Teavangelicals' (denounced on last week's Guardian site for their drift from 19th Century Evangelical ideals into an idolatry of America and their 'Tea Party' movement's faith in freemarket Capitalism) are often to be found comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler. That's quite extreme. I find them as hard to respect as to love. But I think I'm going to start praying for them. Not just for them to be blessed and protected and to have God draw near to them and fill their hearts with mercy, but for God also to soften their views, to give them a concern for economic justice and to discern between a man-made state and the Kingdom of God.
I'm going to pray for David Cameron, for right-wing profiteers, for those who think all this country needs is to dish out more jolly good hidings to people who pronounce 'isn't it' incorrectly and for those who think 'family' fixes everything from unrest to old cars. I invite you to join me.
Alternatively, I invite you to pray for me, for those with sympathy for homosexuals, Palestinians and George Galloway, for the Muslim-loving communist hippies who would happily watch our country descend into the anarchy that comes from dropped 'H's and socialism. I am convinced we'd all find it easier to love each other if we did, and perhaps we might all end up softening our views a little bit. It's more fun to hate, but this could be exciting.
This post first appeared in The Baptist Times