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Gordon Brown: I should have been more forthright about faith

01 December 2017


Opening up: the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown (pictured in 2009), who is the son of a Church of Scotland minister, has written in his memoirs about his Christian faith

Opening up: the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown (pictured in 2009), who is the son of a Church of Scotland minister, has written in his memoirs abo...

GORDON BROWN has said that he should have been more open about the way in which his religious beliefs motivated him while he was Prime Minister.

Writing in his memoirs My Life, Our Times, published last month by Bodley Head, Mr Brown, whose father was a Church of Scotland minister, argued against those who sought to expunge religion from the public square. “To expect those of us with strong beliefs to leave them at the door of the House of Commons or No. 10 is to require us to bring an incomplete version of ourselves into the public arena,” he wrote.

“If the values that matter most to me are the values that I speak about least, then I am, at least in part, in denial of who I really am.”

Quoting the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, Mr Brown said that to lose the “moral energy” of those with strong religious convictions would “diminish our civic life”.

He said, however, that he should have been more forthright about his own faith background and “moral compass” during his ten years as Chancellor of the Exchequer and three years as Prime Minister.

“This was, to my regret, a problem that I never really resolved. I suspect I was thought of as more like a technician lacking solid convictions. And, despite my strong person religious beliefs, I never really countered that impression.”

Reflecting on his time in politics, Mr Brown recalled how he had tried — again, mostly unsuccessfully, he admits — to inject a moral dimension to the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.

Rather than simply being a problem of economics, the crisis showed how “the world had worshipped at the altar of wealth and greed, and forgotten that a successful economy needed to be built on trust and fairness”, Mr Brown wrote. His remarks echoed those made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has often called for greater morality in finance (News, 2 November 2012; 17 October 2014; 17 February 2017).

Despite organising a debate at St Paul’s Cathedral on the ethics of finance, during the G20 summit in London, in 2009, Mr Brown said that he was worried about appearing to moralise, and drew back from calling on banks to become more ethical. On other occasions, he withstood pressure from religious groups, opposing Christian campaigners on issues such as restricting embryo research, limiting access to abortion, creating civil partnerships, and opt-out organ donation.

But the increasing trend towards secularism had “enfeebled” Western society, Mr Brown suggested: a “detached indifference” towards religion was now the norm.

And, while believers must not use exclusively religious arguments, but must use the same reason as those of no faith, a liberal society must also allow for the religious to make their case in the public arena. “A liberal state is not truly liberal unless it makes room for a conversation amongst believers and non-believers.”

Mr Brown’s words were echoed on Tuesday in the annual Theos lecture by Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, who resigned after the General Election in June because he felt that it was impossible to reconcile his position with being a “faithful Christian”.

Mr Farron, an Evangelical, had been repeatedly questioned by reporters about his views on homosexuality in the early weeks of the election campaign (News, Comment, 23 June).

Liberalism, the political ideology founded in a battle for religious liberty for non-conformists, had won in Britain: even Conservatives now called themselves liberals, Mr Farron said.

But its victory was a hollow one: “Liberalism has eaten itself, because it has eaten the very world-view that gave birth to it, that made it possible. In discarding Christianity, we kick away the foundations of liberalism and democracy, and so we cannot then be surprised when what we call liberalism stops being liberal.”

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