We have arrived at the final two candidates in the Tory leadership contest: either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the person to deliver us from Brexit. They are both well known, tried and tested, clearly possessing of the dignity, gravity, intelligence, wisdom and experience to do the job (whether or not you agree with them). Michael Gove would have made the final round of regional hustings positively electrifying, but it was not to be. Some of those who have been eliminated or who withdrew were perhaps a little wide-eyed, not to say rather naive, being relatively unknown if not somewhat lacking in self-awareness and a sober assessment of their abilities. Being a ‘nice bloke’ and talking a lot about ‘hope for the future’ and how to ‘refresh’ the Conservative Party doesn’t really make you prime prime-ministerial material: people want red meat, not milk.
The final vote will now go out to around 160,000 Conservative Party members. It is a great responsibility to discern who might best lead the country out of the Brexit morass into which we are sinking (/have sunk): we are in the gravest political crisis of the post-war era, and the nation needs a leader of vision, wisdom and conviction.
In order to try to assess how a candidate might perform in the big job, it helps to look at what they did with little (or littler) things. If you want to gauge whether or not a politician is likely to keep his or her promises, look at how they honour their marriage vows and conduct their personal affairs. Do those who know them well give them good report? Do they honour their contracts and keep their commitments? The steward who is faithful and trustworthy in the world’s small things is far more likely to be faithful and trustworthy with God’s things. ‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much‘ (Lk 16:10).
Christians espouse all sorts of politics, so the title of this piece is a little unhelpful. A politician’s faith cannot be discerned solely by how they voted in a series of parliamentary bills since there are so many known and unknown variables. Politicians are men and women of the murky business of the world, and are subject to conflicting and sometimes mutually-exclusive tensions and dilemmas, compounded by irreconcilable differences and tortuous pressures: not everything is down to a choice of personal morality or an expression of the individual conscience. The politician will sometimes purposely do the wrong thing in the hope of securing a presently unrealisable (or even publicly unknown) greater right. You cannot simply judge by appearances.
And yet Christians are exhorted to judge: ‘Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment‘ (Jn 7:24), or perhaps the NIV is more helpful: ‘Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.‘ That is to say, don’t judge by the superficial or formal or ‘the letter of the law’: consider each person’s word or action and (generously, graciously) weigh them in the light of revealed truth, justice, human worth and spiritual peace.
The Christian Institute has produced a useful facility by which we may examine every MP’s voting record on ‘key moral issues’. It isn’t clear why these are limited to matters of sex, gender, sexuality, reproduction and religious liberty (aren’t votes on justice, retribution/restoration, welfare, gambling, the environment, education, overseas aid or housing not also ‘key moral issues’?), but it’s a useful starting point. The information on each leadership candidate may therefore be examined in respect of their decisions on such matters as sex-selective abortion, abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, Sunday trading, assisted suicide and so on, where a red cross is deemed to be a ‘morally wrong vote’, and a green tick a ‘morally right vote’ (according to the moral worldview of the Christian Institute). Some Christians will assent to this ethical framework, and others will demur. Helpfully, the Christian Institute enhance understanding by publishing a detailed apologetic on each main area of morality: ‘Sanctity of Life’, ‘Marriage and the Family’, and ‘Christian Freedoms and Heritage’.
Perhaps if they had the time and money, they might extend their analyses so we may see how leadership candidates voted when it came to feeding the poor, housing the homeless, welcoming strangers and reforming criminals.
There are key variables in the analysis, not least of which is that some candidates have been in Parliament far longer than others so their moral worldviews may be more reliably discerned. Also, while most of these parliamentary bills were subject to a free vote, some parties imposed a whip. You may argue that the ‘true Christian’ will ignore the whip if it coerces toward legislation which is ‘morally wrong’, but that may well be a judgment according to appearance: we simply cannot know what pressures were brought to bear and the politician’s threshold of endurance. It must also be noted that candidates might have been absent from a vote due to circumstances beyond their control: abstention does not indicate indifference.
The information below will be expanded and amended or corrected over the coming weeks as: i) in the corporate pursuit of knowledge, people make other information known (either in the chat thread below or via the contact form); ii) candidates offer their own testimonials for inclusion; iii) time permits for their writings, speeches or personal moral behaviour to be examined (difficult to include the latter as most of the criticism is written by opponents); and iv) the way they voted on matters of justice, health, welfare, education, overseas development and the environment etc., etc (which are matters of undoubted ‘key’ morality to many Christians) may be discovered and incorporated.
One further caveat: politicians don’t always believe what they say or practise what they write. In a country where Christian morality informs the law and has shaped the culture and our common life, ‘respect’ for that heritage may be a more sincere expression of belief than going to church on a Sunday.
One final caveat: except perhaps for observing how (un)faithful or (un)just each candidate has been with ‘little’, none of this constitutes an assessment of a candidate’s (in)ability to handle ‘much’ – that is, the role of Prime Minister at a time of political crisis. We have had some weak and morally-dubious Christian prime ministers, and one or two outstanding atheist-agnostics. Sometimes God can work through an ass.
The remaining candidates:
Boris Johnson: I am not a serious practicing Christian
Boris Johnson defends decision to ban Christian advert
Ex mistress Petronella Wyatt reveals rare insight into Boris Johnson (slight bias alert)
Just don’t call it war (British values and extremist Islam)
Tory Grandee Chris Patten Calls Boris Johnson ‘Mendacious’ and ‘Incompetent’
Eliminated by Conservative MPs in the final round (by 75 votes to Hunt’s 77):
Michael Gove: In defence of Christianity
Michael Gove on the Environment: “I speak as a Christian”
Michael Gove: Why I’m proud to be a Christian
Michael Gove: I’m a sinner and I shouldn’t have stood against Boris Johnson
Michael Gove: My Christian faith makes me more aware of my weakness
Michael Gove: “I believe in redemption” because of Christian faith
SARAH VINE reveals why she thinks Michael Gove is the right man to be Prime Minister (slight bias alert)
None of this, of course, tells us much about their private devotional life, should they have any: the assessment of ‘Christian’ character is not limited to those who say they pray or go to church or read the Bible; it extends to those who ‘worship’ in spirit and in truth in their personal conduct and moral-ethical political frameworks. Should you have any useful (verifiable) information on a candidate’s views and beliefs, or their character integrity and trustworthiness (not written by political opponents), please make it known.
First published 30 May 2019.
Updated 31 May to include Mark Harper.
Updated 2 June to include Sam Gyimah.
Updated (twice) 4 June as James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse withdrew.
Updated 10 June as Sam Gyimah withdrew (Sam Gyimah hosts free speech summit).
Updated 13 June as three candidates were eliminated in the first round of voting: 1) Andrea Leadsom (Andrea Leadsom: “I am a Christian and I am proud of it”; Andrea Leadsom: I didn’t like gay marriage law because it hurts Christians; Andrea Leadsom interview: Thatcher, God, and why I should be Prime Minister; The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP discusses her Christian faith). 2) Mark Harper (Listed among Roman Catholic MPs in The Tablet; Opened Forest of Dean Catholic Church fete). 3) Esther McVey (Esther McVey backs parents opposed to lessons on LGBT).
Updated 14 June as Matt Hancock withdrew.
Updated 18 June as Dominic Raab was eliminated.
Updated 19 June as Rory Stewart was eliminated (Govt minister says Christians have the power to transform prisons; Love is the key to healing divisions in the country).
Updated 20 June as Sajid Javid was eliminated (Families arriving in Britain must respect Christian culture; Sajid Javid: What has the new home secretary said about faith?).