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Tim Farron: Christian principles in jeopardy at the heart of politics

18 November 2022

Tim Farron argues for a wiser, more truthful political culture


Tim Farron at a Save British Food rally in Parliament Square against the effects of post-Brexit trade deals in March this year

Tim Farron at a Save British Food rally in Parliament Square against the effects of post-Brexit trade deals in March this year

MASONRY crumbles, asbestos lingers, and puddles threaten electric cabling. The MP Andrea Leadsom warns that it could be “Britain’s Notre-Dame”. The Houses of Parliament, according to the Restoration and Renewal Project, “needs essential restoration to preserve it for future generations”. It could take 76 years to repair fully. The home of British politics is — genuinely — perilously unstable. The same could also be said of its heart.

Decisions made in Westminster seem increasingly driven by personal ambition, with little principle or even substance to go with it. Boris Johnson is under investigation for misleading Parliament as he clung to his premiership. Liz Truss tanked the British economy to its lowest ever level because she told Conservative members only what they wanted to hear.

Conservative MPs are accusing the Home Secretary of “playing to the gallery” by proposing to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda; and our former Health Secretary (who is still an MP, by the way) is in Australia to eat dingoes’ kidneys on a reality TV show.

Nadhim Zahawi agreed to be Boris Johnson’s Chancellor, resigned 24 hours later, joined Liz Truss’s Cabinet, published an article beckoning Boris 2.0 — and two hours later tweeted that Rishi Sunak should become Prime Minister. Then, he joined his Cabinet, too! As the American comedian Groucho Marx once said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them . . . well, I have others.”

Personal ambition is not wrong, but we should seek positions of influence to facilitate our service. Jesus taught us that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled”. His model of service was to stoop down, to wash feet, to show mercy. Yet some people think that politically engaged Christians should leave their faith at the door.

In these turbulent times, can Christianity provide an objective source of morality to restore, preserve, and stabilise Parliament?

If every Member of Parliament was a Christian, there would still be disagreement in the ranks. The Bible doesn’t tell us the best practical way to solve political problems. It doesn’t say which taxes to raise, what foreign aid to give, how many asylum-seekers to adopt, or what our relationship with the European Union should look like.

If you are firmly pro-life, the Bible won’t tell you which policies are most effective for decreasing abortion. Just as it is in the secular realm, Christian policymaking is largely subjective.

But Christians do have broad biblical principles — objective principles — that we should use to guide our thinking. The Bible binds our conscience to care for the poor, and to do so practically: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2.15-16).

You don’t need me to tell you that dozens of other verses also demonstrate God’s care for the poor and his command to be generous.

Proverbs 21 provides a heap of wisdom for political engagement. Be truthful, because “a fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapour”. Prepare strategically, as “the wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” And “the craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work”; so don’t be lazy, or take your position for granted.


MOST people agree that truth, wisdom, and a strong work ethic are attractive — even essential — characteristics for politicians to have. At present, there is a deep cynicism about politicians’ motives, and trust in elected officials continues to plummet.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that 78 per cent of people think that politicians understand the lives of people like them “badly”, while 63 per cent believe that politicians are just “in it for themselves”. Christians are called to turn these statistics on their head.

When a voter enters the ballot box and votes for a faithful Christian, they should know what they’re voting for. The core of our being — the place from which our ambition comes — is not hidden. It’s written down in the most popular book ever sold. The bestseller all year, every year.

Colossians 3.23 says: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Our work is worship — not of ourselves, but of God, and his heart is for all people to live lives abounding in joy, peace, and hope.

This is where our Christian morality becomes objective: not in policy or party colours, but in piety and purpose.

One of the challenges unsettling British politics, and one of the reasons why many prospective politicians — Christian and non-Christian — fear raising their head above the parapet, is that our culture tends towards unforgiveness. The whole notion of “cancel culture” has arisen because people choose not to separate the views of their opponents from their worth as human beings.

Parliamentarians are too afraid of being caught out to diverge from party scripts, of being wrong to suggest bold ideas, and of being misunderstood to share their faith. But Jesus didn’t cancel us, he cancelled our debt.

A few weeks ago, the Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy was caught on a hot mic describing Christian MP Steve Baker in offensive and inflammatory terms. Mr Guru-Murthy apologised, and was rightly taken off air for a week. His action had a consequence, but Mr Baker said, “I am not surprised his blood was up. I forgive him and that is the end of it.”

Christians should not subscribe to culture wars of “us versus them”, and neither should we get involved in name-calling and mudslinging. As Mr Baker showed, we can be the models of a third way that does not fan the flames.

That doesn’t mean that Christians have to be soft. Jesus was combative in his language, but not vicious. He got angry at times, but he was full of compassion. Paul wrote to the Colossians in Chapter 4 that our conversations should “always be full of grace, seasoned with salt”. We can be provocative and politically effective, but we should also be polite.


THIS is not to say that non-Christians are amoral. Sometimes, their living-out of the values of Jesus’s Kingdom are far superior to ours. Some will, therefore, argue that we don’t need Christianity to have a moral politics. Human rights, equality, compassion — surely these are the objective morals against which we mark our progress?

These principles are now so accepted that they appear almost opaque, but they were once monstrously counter-cultural, divisive, and they were revealed to us through Jesus. We already have an objective Christian morality at the heart of our democracy. The extraordinary impact of it is seen in the fact that people barely notice it. Like a planet that has been potholed by asteroids, our politics bears the crater marks of the gospel.

But unless Jesus remains the foundation of those principles, we risk losing them. If you travelled back to a pre-Christian culture and asked some of the greatest minds whether human beings were equal — Plato, for example — they would scoff.

It was a cross-shaped witness that proclaimed the equality of all people, which first spoke against infanticide, gladiatorial games, and the slave trade. The idea that secularism is a neutral moral alternative is wrong. We all approach life with a world view, but only Christianity offers a true north.

Why are Christian views and values sometimes treated with suspicion? If people are concerned about Christian involvement in politics, then I’d gently suggest that, in part, it may be because as Christians we’ve been getting it wrong.

Sadly, we do not always help ourselves, and can come across as judgemental and intolerant. We can shout on big-ticket issues alongside placards with Jesus’s name on, and forget to weave the gospel message of grace, mercy, and love for our neighbours into our everyday politics.


POLITICS will always be tainted by compromise and sin. We live between the cross and Kingdom come; the reality of a fallen world will always be with us. The most radical change will come if hearts are softened as people learn about Jesus, but many will close their ears to the gospel if they are repelled by the attitude of some Christians. Christians should not have their hearts set on legislating theocratically.

In its first 350 years, the Early Church grew by 40 per cent every ten years. Christians washed feet, served, and lived in an opposite spirit to a Roman culture which said that powerful people triumphed.

The world around was mesmerised because Christians loved their enemies and blessed those who persecuted them. God’s power was made perfect in their weakness. Then, when Constantine became Emperor and converted to Christianity, the Church became a political institution which tried to coerce everyone to obey its rules. That’s when things started to go wrong.

The recent failures of the leadership at the top of our country underline that character is really important. It matters that our leaders have integrity, judgement, and wisdom. But if they lose sight of those values — because they’ve lost sight of Jesus — then their sense of worth and purpose lies in their own strength.

By the time they realise they’re not strong enough — that they’re not the greatest — the damage has usually been done. Today’s political discourse is dominated by questions such as, “How will the red wall react to this?”, or “Will this cut through?”, because moral seriousness has been substituted by personal ambition.

In 1988, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, delivered an address to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland nicknamed “the Sermon on the Mound”. She said, “There is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women in democratic societies cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves.”

She was right. When you understand that God knows the number of hairs on your head, you cannot be reduced to a cog in a collectivist machine. And if you’re so much more than a mere cog, you have no need to act from a place of vain ambition.

Christians should have a deep, spiritual recognition that we are not our own saviours, and that we do not control the universe. We do not have to rely on ourselves for meaning, love, and redemption. Rather, we are so loved that the one who does control the universe gave his life to enable us to live ours to the full.

To restore and stabilise the heart of British politics, we need a more Christian politics. But what we don’t need is all kinds of messy earthly city politics with Christian veneer. If we fall into that trap, we risk losing our chance to get a hearing for the gospel, which is the ultimate change-maker.

A Christian’s political calling is crystallised in the form of “Love your neighbour”, and that is the objective morality we should be known for.


Tim Farron was leader of the Liberal Democrats, 2015-17. His new book, A Mucky Business: Why Christians should get involved in politics, is published by IVP at £12.99 (CT Bookshop £11.69); 978-1-78974-444-6.

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