A West Country MP has said Christians are more likely to come to the aid of the poor and vulnerable in Britain after David Cameron said the country should be "more evangelical" about its religious beliefs.
Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, said the Prime Minister's comments represented a "new-found sense of mission" as he took a side-swipe at "militant atheists".
Mr Streeter, chairman of the cross-party Christians in Parliament group, argued it is "the churches, not the secular groups, not the atheists" leading community work in his constituency and across the country.
Mr Streeter, a former government minister, made the remarks on Radio 4's Today programme when challenged by former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who said it was "offensive" to suggest people with religious convictions had a stronger "moral code" than those who do not.
In an article for the Church Times, Mr Cameron said Britain should be "more confident about our status as a Christian country".
"I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives," he said.
Mr Streeter said the Prime Minister is "reflecting a new-found confidence in the Church in Britain, and a new-found sense of mission that we really are here to serve our communities."
He went on: "There are Christians right now who are serving their communities – whether it be street pastors, Christians Against Poverty, all kinds of groups for elderly and vulnerable people. The reality is on the ground Christians are out there serving the most vulnerable in our society."
In response, Mr Harris, a member of the British Humanist Association, said: "There's no evidence that being religious makes you any more likely to do good deeds. You certainly don't need, as the Prime Minister was trying to imply, to be religious to have a moral code. That is offensive to many people in this country that are not religious."
But Mr Streeter replied: "It's offensive to you and the minority of militant atheists."
The Tory MP went on: "In most constituencies, for example like my own, it is the churches – not the secular groups, not the atheists – who are out there serving vulnerable people, running youth clubs, creating lunches for elderly and lonely people. That's the reality in our country.
"The Prime Minister is simply reflecting that and I pay him credit for doing that. Most of the good things in this country come from our Christian heritage. Many of our finest charities were founded by Christians."
He added: "Most of us who have a faith, it motivates us to serve in our community."
Mr Harris said it is "not true" Britain is a Christian country, as the Prime Minister suggested.
He said: "A Christian country. What does that mean? I suppose in the sense that there are more Christians than Muslims and Jews, then we're a Christian country. On that basis we are a female country, a heterosexual country, a white country. Are people, in this country very religious? The majority are not.
"Most people in this country do not want politicians to impose religion on the rest of us. It should be a private matter."
The Prime Minister's article is the latest demonstration of his religious faith.
Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell famously held that prime ministers should not "do God", but Mr Cameron has been less reluctant to speak about his beliefs.
At an Easter reception in Downing Street earlier this month he told an audience of Christian leaders and politicians in Downing Street that his "moments of greatest peace" occurred every other Thursday morning attending the Eucharist at St Mary Abbots, the west London church linked to the school his children attend.
In the article, Mr Cameron described himself as a "classic" member of the Church of England, "not that regular in attendance, and a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith".
Mr Cameron said being more confident about "our status as a Christian country does not somehow involve doing down other faiths or passing judgment on those with no faith at all. Many atheists and agnostics live by a moral code – and there are Christians who don't."