Liz Truss church christianity
Politicians

Liz Truss: “I share the values of the Christian faith”

In a few weeks the United Kingdom will have a new Prime Minister. On current polling, it looks as though Liz Truss will be invited to kiss hands with the Queen and asked to form a government. She will be Her Majesty’s 15th prime minister, and the third woman to hold that office.

Her moral vision and views on various ethical issues were examined a few weeks ago, but we know very little about her personal spiritual beliefs. She was asked recently if she was someone of faith who practises religion regularly, and she responded candidly: “I share the values of the Christian faith and the Church of England, but I’m not a regular practising religious person.”

Which puts her with most of the country.

Indeed, with most of those who say they are CofE.

In this she articulates the sociological phenomenon identified by Grace Davie, of ‘believing without belonging’. Liz Truss’s belief may or may not extend to the divinity of the person of Christ, but it certainly extends to his values and virtues of the Church of England. For Liz Truss, the civil society which emanates from Christianity is the bedrock for social morality. Her Christian religion and her Millite liberalism aren’t mutually antagonistic, but complementary and reconciled through her Burkean conservatism.

Which puts her with most of the Conservative Party.

Her premiership won’t be a theo-political project, as it was for Margaret Thatcher. She isn’t likely to articulate or introduce a mission mood which talks of restoring confidence to the nation or stability to our people through the virtues of Christianity. Nor is she likely to point to the Church as the hope of remoralising society or the solution to many of our present problems. But she is no advocate of complete autonomy or unrestrained individualism which is corrosive of society, and in this she will find an ally in the Church.

Sir Roger Scruton observed: “Freedom without institutions is blind: it embodies neither genuine social continuity nor…genuine individual choice.” And he further noted, as many historians have pointed out, that it is a recent venture of the human spirit for men and women to define themselves as individuals, as creatures whose nature and value are summed up in their unique individual being. The Conservative Party is in tension because conservatism itself seeks to articulate a middle way between institutional continuity and personal freedom: the individual’s identification with something greater – be it society, class, religion, state or nation – is deemed to possess an innate authority or to be of a value which transcends the value of individuality. Civil order is maintained only by controlling excessive assertions of individuality. The ‘wings’ of the Conservative Party which adhere to each doctrine are bound together in their own fractious via media, an Anglican sort of compromise which does not seek to coerce because, as Locke observed, history teaches that one tyranny may simply be replaced by another.

By declaring that she shares the values of the Christian faith and the Church of England, Liz Truss is acknowledging the increasingly fraught relationship in the UK between faith and politics and between religion and public policy which inclines some to assert that the two should not mix; that politics should be ‘secular’ and the state should be ‘neutral’. Of course, the questions raised by these assertions are antithetical to centuries of Anglican tradition – in its defence of orthodoxy and involvement in the conflicts and tensions which characterise the nation and the historic expression of great intellectual scholarship.

Should clergymen pronounce on matters of public policy? Are the spheres of religion and politics distinct? Is party politics, or national identity, ultimately based on moral insights? Is it possible or legitimate to embody Christian doctrines in the traditions, laws and customs of a people? Or does Christian doctrine stand as a set of abstract truths, accessible by reason, but with only an ambiguous application to social forms? Are our values ultimately grounded on tradition or reason? Is an established church an essential aspect of the state, or a temporary and dispensable adjunct?

In Liz Truss’s response to a single question, the answer is clear: she has no intention of supporting the secularist mission of Church-State separation. She shares the values of the Christian faith without practising: she is a very Church of England Christian, which may, to some, make her no Christian at all. And yet the Christianity which is more cultural than confessional is now the largest church in the country.

There is a pervasive disassociation between the Christian values people profess (believing), and those they confess through Christian practice (belonging). There is virtue in those who believe in and defend the values and principles of their Christian faith, even if they only manage to ‘belong’ on Christmas Eve. They don’t seek to exclude religion from public life, but their lives are just too busy to do religion publicly. Liz Truss is apparently one of these. She may be full of doubts and grappling with difficult questions, but they are not big theological issues. Her premiership will be one of urgent moral duties and pressing compassionate actions to keep people warm and fed, and small businesses from going bankrupt, but she won’t appeal to religious reasons in this context: it is simply her personal morality.

What is heartening is that Liz Truss is no supporter of ‘secular neutrality’, which is brave when the social context is pluralist, the moral context relativist, and the only enlightened intelligence positivist. She knows that secularism is not in any sense ‘neutral’, not least because she has seen that secularist-humanists are anything but neutralists. She is a staunch defender of the freedom of religion and belief, but firmly under the aegis of the Christian conception of the good.

Not everyone will agree with Liz Truss’s theological horizon, or her moral code of values, or her articulation of Christian identity and the preeminent gospel of tolerance. But she is much nearer to orthodox Anglicanism than to any other worldview, and this is part of a fine Conservative tradition. At least the Church of England will not be disestablished during her premiership.

There are those, of course, who are still praying for Rishi Sunak to triumph. They no doubt include the Bishops of the Church of England – to a man and a woman. When it comes to the politics of care and the theology of compassion, they would see Liz Truss as the ‘wrong kind’ of woman; “not as sister”, as Harriet Harman said of Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. But, like them both, she shares the values of the Christian faith, and that means she holds to certain moral principles and has a certain view of human nature because they are true. She also has a certain view of individual freedom and the role of the state, and in this she inclines to more of the former and less of the latter. She may be suspicious of Church authority, but who, frankly, can blame her?