The former Liberal Democrat leader, Menzies Campbell, appeared yesterday to question the compatibility of serious Christianity with electoral acceptability. Sir Ming’s contribution to BBC1’s Blair Years was quoted in an Independent on Sunday story about Tony Blair’s faith:
"The public might have been less willing to give [Blair] the triumph of three consecutive general election victories if they’d known the extent to which ethical values would overshadow pragmatism."
Really? In my experience, a lot of churchgoers vote for the LibDems. I hope that they have the opportunity to study Sir Ming’s ill-defined scepticism towards "ethical values".
For me, mainstream Christianity has been and is a force for good in public life. This has been true historically and is true now. I’m not going to name names but in today’s Conservative Party, a large number of churchgoers are leading Tory thinking on social justice at home, human rights abroad and a commitment to better stewardship of the environment. In America it is the much-maligned Christian Right that is challenging the Republicans to think more about the urban poor and international challenges like Darfur.
Although a lot is made of Tony Blair’s Christianity it was not applied predictably. I don’t want to question his sincerity but, as a legislator, he was not, for example, a reliable defender of the unborn. The discussions he has had with priests about his spiritual journey to Rome must have been interesting.
As for David Cameron, he has been very private about his faith. Last March he did venture this, however: "Yes, I’m a little more than an Easter and Christmas Christian. I go to church about once a month – so I’m a typical Church of England, slightly laid-back Christian."
The key reason why many Britons have turned against religion is probably fear of Islamic extremism. Melanie Phillips addresses this in her Mail column today:
"Islamic terrorism and the demented beliefs that fuel it have given all religion a bad name. Especially these days when people turn themselves into human bombs and blow countless innocents to bits in the expectation that they will be rewarded with 72 virgins in paradise."
The challenge for those who believe that politics is enriched by the involvement of Christians, Jews and moderate Muslims is to take the lead in opposing extremist followers of religion. Otherwise the idea will grow that all religion is bad and opposition to fundamentalist schools will, for example, see renewed moves against all faith schools and charities. The main losers of such moves will be the children who then get educated at less good schools and the many beneficiaries of faith-based social projects.
In this context, it is regrettable that the Archbishop of Canterbury used an interview with a Muslim lifestyle magazine to knock America and fail to condemn Islamic violence.
Related link: Michael Gove defends the power of religious faith