There is no faster way to label someone in the public eye a nutjob than to bring out the fact they are a Christian. Of course, there are those ‘Christians’ who get away with it by claiming to be believers while simultaneously doing everything within their power to show that they are in no way devout. David Cameron’s lame ‘Magic FM in the Chilterns’ comment readily springs to mind. But if you can highlight that someone is a Christian, who actually goes to church and believes the sort of things that Christians believe, then you have managed to sidestep the word nutter whilst simultaneously inferring exactly that. They did it with Tim Farron on becoming Lib Dem leader (see here), my friend, Dan Walker, when he ascended to the BBC Breakfast sofa (see here and here) and now, Conservative Party leadership hopeful, Andrea Leadsom.
Several media reports have made something of Leadsom’s Christianity. In particular, you can listen to this Channel 4 interview below. Having asked questions about her policies, raised some concern over her allegedly beefed-up CV, the interviewer decides to end on one particularly pointed question: ‘Do you ever think that you have been spoken to directly by God?’. You can hear it at around 10:40.
I think Leadsom was quite right to suggest the interviewer was seeking to ‘laugh at’ and ‘poke fun at’ her. It was undoubtedly mocking and framed in such a way as to effectively ask ‘to what extent do you accept the stupid things Christians believe?’. As David Robertson rightly says ‘it is an accusation, not a question. It’s along the lines of what kind of religious nutter are you?‘. The questioner was clearly implying that belief in an immanent, knowable God is tantamount to admitting you need to be committed.
Clearly, Christians do believe God speaks to them. But that does not mean they necessarily believe they hear an audible voice telling them how to make decisions like what to have for dinner. Most Christians believe God speaks to them primarily through the pages of the Bible, which were written down by ordinary men. Many would argue God also speaks through circumstance. Again, that is not through divine sky-writing telling you what job to take. Rather, a sovereign God who controls all things, and who has given each of us our own mind and volition, places us in particular circumstances so that, alongside reading his word, to make decisions that (as far as we can tell) are within his divine will. This is what we might call ordinary providence. God speaking to us through ordinary things.
Clearly, as was made clear in her answer, Andrea Leadsom does not believe she has audible conversations with God whereby he tells her to do certain things which she is duty bound to do without any rational basis. That’s not Christianity, that’s schizophrenia. Christians believe God speaks, but they believe he does so primarily through the pages of the Bible (meaning Christian and non-Christian alike can hear from him). Many also believe God guides through circumstance, putting us in situations knowing our volition and inclinations as well as – in some instances – closing certain doors and opening others. This is a natural belief for anyone who believes in a God powerful enough to do or change anything. It is a far cry from hearing voices and irrational behaviour. It amounts to reading the Bible and assessing our circumstances.
There is a patronising view that says people of faith in politics is fine, so long as they are Christians who properly conform to my views. They must accept and assent to culturally determined right thinking, or we will hound, harass and hunt them down. The mainstream media will be used to attack, mock and abuse and social media campaigns will be used in a similar way.
It is the unfortunate tendency of self-appointed modern liberals. In opposition to anything that could credibly be considered liberal, they are happy to accept and welcome anyone who assents to the predetermined orthodox views and opinions they have deemed acceptable. This way, they aver, they tolerate everyone because everyone ultimately share their views.
The heart of liberalism is tolerating the views and opinions of those with whom we deeply disagree, that is permitting people to hold and voice such views despite what we may believe ourselves. Modern liberalism says you are only permitted to agree with me. Tolerance is no longer tolerance if we all share the same opinion; that is agreement. Tolerance can only exist where people hold opposing views. Christians are only tolerated insofar as they assent to the modern liberal orthodoxy we are all told we must accept. If they do not, they are mocked, belittled and, in some cases, stopped from voicing dissenting opinions. In the name of tolerance, Christian views are often not tolerated.
As David Robertson rightly points out:
Witness poor Stephen Crabb, being forced to confess he was wrong about Same Sex Marriage and promising to introduce it to Northern Ireland. Witness the frightened party candidate who asked me to remove their name from a blog I had written seven years earlier, in case their Party HQ got sent a copy of it sent by one of the gay activist groups who trawl the internet, sniffing out any connection at all with homophobia or ‘extremist militant Christian groups’ which apparently includes CARE, SU and UCCF! Yes – we really are at that level of thought police and intimidation.
As Christians – especially dissenting, low-church Christians like myself – we know all too well the importance of genuine freedom of thought and religion (whether Christian, secular or otherwise). We know, because the history of our churches tells us so, that if we are so marginalised others will be treated the same as well. Modern Liberals are not democrats, they are happy with freedom of thought as long as the plebs assent to the right thoughts. Just look at the recent EU referendum as a case in point. Notice the Liberal Democrats (that’s the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS) vow to fight to overturn the democratic will of the people. It is truly astonishing. Whilst it is anybody’s democratic right to go on making the argument, it is highly undemocratic to simply reject the democratic will of the majority. This is but one recent example. Witness what happens whenever somebody dissents from cultural orthodoxy, whatever it may be. If they are a Christian, it is simply easier to presume you know what they believe already and much more efficient to consider them bigoted and credulous in advance. Saves a lot of time in the long run.
I am not a Conservative. I am not particularly in line with many of Andrea Leadsom’s views. But, as I said when I commented on this same phenomenon with Tim Farron (here), I can see a witch hunt when I see one. Make the C-word stick and you may as well have photoshopped a picture of them in a tin foil hat trying to commune with extra-terrestrials. Here’s a radical thought: why don’t we interact with people’s actual thoughts and ideas rather than simply according to whatever label we’ve decided to stick them with? Rather than just presume someone a nutter, would it not be more helpful to consider their policies and judge them on that basis?