But I was struck by the impact this has a few years ago when I found myself at a wedding with a Christian MP and got talking with him and his wife about how the expenses scandal had affected them personally. Despite not being implicated in any wrong-doing at all, the whole affair had led to loads of people in their local community simply slagging them off, judging them with no regard to their feelings. The attitude to them was, ‘Well they are politicians, they deserve it’, like they are all the same. But actually, they were just a pretty normal family, with feelings like any of us.
In the UK we don’t often hear of Christian politicians talking about their faith. ‘Doing God’ can leaves the politician wide open to misinterpretation as the public may well cast onto them their own stereotypes of Christians. This is probably why Alastair Campbell’s made his famous ‘We don’t do God’ comment when reporters wanted to ask Tony Blair about his faith.
Also to many people, declaring yourself a Christian is tantamount to declaring yourself a ‘good person’ – which is a risky thing for any politician who does not want to give any more reasons for people to call them hypocritical.
Heads above the parapet
It is therefore significant that twelve Christian politicians have decided to stick their head above the parapet and write articles about their faith. Published together in a book entitled Liberal Democrats Do God, they each talk about how their faith impacts their politics in a positive way. In the book, MPs and peers defend both why they ‘do God’ in the Liberal Democrat Party and how they do it.
The book has been co-edited by my good friend and fellow Streathamite, Claire Mathys, who directs the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum. It has received a good amount of publicity because Steve Webb, the Pensions Minister, has written in the book that ‘God must be a liberal’ due to the freedom he permits us. When the Telegraph reported this as ‘God is a Lib Dem’ it all kicked off.
But beyond these headlines, the aim of the book is to challenge those who think that faith is merely a private matter, without relevance to public life, and show that Christianity can positively contribute to politics. It also seeks to challenge any Christians who think that the Lib Dem is a secular party and has no place for them – after all over 15% of the party’s MPs wrote in the book.
Turning the tide
There are several reasons to be excited about this book. It gets the political world discussing God, it provides thought-provoking ideas about the mixing of faith and politics, and it challenges views held by secularists about Christians in politics. It includes a clear account of what it means to be a Christian, including personal testimony.
But it’s also part of a bigger picture – it seems that the tide is turning, and Christians across the political world are reasserting what their faith means for them in the public sphere. I am not a Lib Dem but I think we should support and encourage all Christians as they do this – and especially in areas like politics where there are plenty of reasons not to ‘do God’.