THE Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, this week described himself as like other “regular Church of England folk”: going to church on Sundays and sometimes receiving communion at a midweek lunch-hour celebration in the House of Commons.
It is one of the few occasions when Mr Hunt has spoken about his faith, although it is believed to underlie his wish to do more for persecuted Christians around the world.
Mr Hunt was speaking this week in an interview in The Times, as the Conservative Party leadership race entered its final stages. Ballot papers have been sent to 160,000 Conservative members, and some have already been returned. The announcement of who will be the next Conservative leader, and therefore Prime Minister, is due on 23 July.
Asked about his Christian faith, Mr Hunt said: “I sometimes pray. I’m like regular Church of England folk: it’s part of my life and my identity, but I don’t think it defines my politics.”
When asked if morality still mattered in politics, he answered: “It’s really dangerous to go down that path, because everyone does things for a mix of reasons. Politicians all have a mix of egoism and altruism in them.”
Mr Hunt has faced repeated questions on his stance on abortion. He has said that he personally backs lowering the 24-week abortion limit, but would not attempt to legislate on the issue. In a TV debate this week, he said that he supported extending abortion rights and same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland.
In contrast, his rival for the leadership, Boris Johnson, has avoided talking of faith, which he once compared to patchy radio reception: “like Magic FM in the Chilterns, it comes and goes” — an expression adopted by David Cameron.
Speaking in 2015, Mr Johnson said that it would be “pretentious” to describe himself as a “serious practising Christian”, although he regularly uses biblical language in his speeches and newspaper columns. Earlier this year, in a column in The Daily Telegraph, he urged Theresa May to “channel Moses” and tell the European Union to “let my people go”.
The Revd George Pitcher, an author and Anglican priest who is also a visiting fellow in the media communications at the LSE, has written critically about Mr Johnson. He said this week: “The Tories are in danger of making a category error in not distinguishing between character and a character.”
He also remarked that Mr Hunt’s more lukewarm descriptions of his faith showed that the country was “still in an era of post-Blairite embarrassment about faith, where politicians are reluctant to address it for fear it makes them sound soft or eccentric”.