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Tim Farron: Is there a place for faith in politics?

The call for Christians in light of the census data is not to cower away

Tim Farron
Sunday 04 December 2022 12:23 GMT
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This week, new data from the 2021 census showed that – for the first time ever – the majority of people in England and Wales do not describe themselves as Christian. The proportion of the public who identify as Christian fell 13 per cent from 2011. Most of that vote share – 12 per cent – flipped to “no religion”.

The results prompted discussions about what place Christianity, and religious faith in general, deserve in our society today. “Is belief in God an outmoded belief in the 21st century, and if so, is that a good thing?” That was the closing question of this week’s BBC Question Time.

There is a common assumption that the absence of faith is neutral, rational and tolerant, and that having faith is an eccentricity. Faith is seen as a private hobby that people indulge because it makes them feel good, but which can and should be set aside if it will have a bearing on their politics or public actions.

But whether you’re a Christian, an atheist, a humanist or a Jedi, you are following something. We all have a worldview. Nobody expects a Marxist or a Milton Friedman free marketeer to leave their values at the door, so why should we expect Christians to?

Understandably, people are wary of mixing faith with politics because dreadful deeds have been carried out under the guise of religion. Sadly, we Christians do not always help ourselves, and can come across as judgemental and intolerant. If we’re better known for protesting alongside placards with God’s name on than we are for being vessels of God’s grace, mercy, and love for our neighbours, then we’re doing something wrong.

I firmly believe that I have no right to legislate to make people who aren’t Christians live as though they were – I am a liberal, after all. I’m also a pragmatist, and I know that imposing Christianity is an utterly ineffective way of getting the good news of Jesus heard.

And it is good news. Christians have more reason to believe in equality, compassion, freedom and consent than anybody else. Not because those values were taught by Jesus, but because they entered our world through Him. The influence of Christianity is now all around us, but these principles were once monstrously countercultural.

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The call for Christians in light of the census data is not to cower away, or be afraid of standing out if you dare raise your head above the parapet. Instead, it’s to demonstrate how real belief in Jesus leads us to care deeply for our society.

The Bible commands Christians 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). The common critique that faith is a personal matter does not stack up to biblical scrutiny. We’re commanded to get stuck in.

And Christians are already doing that. As the cost of living crisis continues this winter, churches and faith communities are at the heart of the response. Roughly eight in 10 food banks are run by Christian groups; churches are opening as “warm banks”; organisations like Christians Against Poverty are providing free debt counselling; and the Love Christmas campaign is delivering “bags of kindness” to hundreds of thousands of people.

So, if you think a decline in Christianity is positive progress for the UK, I’d challenge you to find out what it’s really about. It’s Christmas time – there’s so much to explore.

Tim Farron is the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and a former leader of the Liberal Democrats. His new book ‘A Mucky Business: Why Christians Should Get Involved in Politics’ is out now

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