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MPs speak of their Christian commitment in seasonal debate

21 December 2023

Alamy

Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament

Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament

CHRISTIAN MPs spoke frankly about their faith in a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday morning — although political realities were never from their minds.

The debate on “Christmas, Christianity and Communities” was opened by the Conservative MP for Don Valley, Nick Fletcher, with a tribute to the “reason for Christmas”. He was interrupted, however, by the SNP member for Glasgow East, David Linden, who asked: “Had the authorities in Bethlehem decreed that migrants travelling by unconventional means should be deported to Rwanda, how much further would the three wise men have had to travel to celebrate the birth of our Lord?”

Mr Linden’s intervention was criticised by the Minister for Faith, Simon Hoare, later in the debate, who described it as a “party-political point”. The debate, not in the Commons chamber, had no legislative force or supposed party line. Mr Hoare suggested that, as Joseph was returning to his home town, he had “every right to be in Bethlehem”.

Mr Fletcher said: “If we repent and ask Christ to come into our lives, he will . . . You just need to ask, and there is never a better time than now.”

He also lamented the closure of churches. “If we do not go to our local churches, they will inevitably close. . . This Christmas, make that decision to follow Christ, and then become part of that community, which can change our society as a whole.”

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, spoke in the debate, drawing attention to the estimated 360 million Christians in the world who face persecution for their faith.

He mentioned the situation faced by Christians in Gaza and the West Bank, and the recent stand-off at the Holy Family Church compound in Gaza, (News, 22 December). “We hope and pray that rescue will come to them shortly,” Mr Selous said.

The SNP MP for Glasgow North, Patrick Grady, also referred to the conflict in the Holy Land, reminding members that “Christian leaders of all denominations, from the Pope to the Archbishop of Canterbury to the patriarchs in Jerusalem itself, have called for an immediate ceasefire on both sides, to allow aid into Gaza, refugees out, the release of hostages, and the negotiation of a peaceful settlement.”

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron — who quit the leadership of his party after feeling that the position was irreconcilable with his Christian beliefs (News, 15 June 2017) — suggested that Christmas was one of the few occasions in which “you can easily get away with talking about Christianity”.

The Christian faith “has always been, and always is, counter-cultural”, he said. “It is deeply disturbing, and even offensive. I am reminded of Lucy asking Mr Beaver about Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: She asks nervously, ‘Is he a tame lion?’

“‘Oh, no,’ says Mr Beaver, ‘he’s not tame, but he is good.’ He is good. Jesus is not tame; Christianity is not tame; and Christmas is not tame; but he is — and they are — good. I would say to people: if you are prepared to allow yourself to be disturbed and offended, you will discover that he is good — good for you, even.”

Mr Farron also referred to the Holy Family’s immigration status: “The nativity tells the story of a teenage mum who, along with her husband and new child, becomes a refugee from a tyrant, lost in an empire that cares little for them, and that values them as nothing more than tax fodder. There is so much there for so many people to identify with.”

The Conservative MP for Darlington, Peter Gibson, expressed delight at the first blessings of same-sex couples taking place last weekend (News, 22 December), and said that he knew first hand “how difficult LGBT people of faith can find certain teachings in coming to terms with their religious belief and sexuality”.

Mr Gibson, an Anglican, has been outspoken in calling for the Church of England to move towards recognising same-sex marriage (News, 16 January).

The only woman, and the only Labour Party representative, to feature in Tuesday’s debate, was the final speaker, the MP for Vauxhall, Florence Eshalomi. She expressed pride in her Christian faith, and gladness that other members had spoken honestly: “We are here to serve and respect all our constituents of faith or no faith, but we should be proud of our faith, and not hide it.”

She emphasised the importance of giving as well as of receiving at Christmas, and spoke of her pride that “our churches and communities will throw open their doors for the less fortunate and the lonely this Christmas.”

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