Faith values in politics can be a force for good?

You don’t need to be a church going person to learn and practice positive faith values in the society. The separation of church and state is a phrase that’s often used in reference to politics in the context of religious faith. In the US, the distinction between religion and politics is often blurred – you only have to listen to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio addressing party loyalists to see just how intertwined the two are. But here in the UK there’s something of a taboo about conflating the two. In fact faith values in politics can be an immense force for good, just as they can outside politics.

Here in the UK, unlike our cousins across the Atlantic, we have an established church and our head of state is also the head of this church. This dual rule has been much reduced since the days of Henry VIII. There was once a time when the UK politics was presided over by a monarch who was both president and pope. Gradually their role faded, and religion was replaced by political philosophy as the driving force behind British political ideology. It has led to something of an institutional silence by our political leaders to use the language of faith in political discourse. Think of the reaction that Prime Minister David Cameron received when he stated that he was prepared to ‘do God’ and take his faith into account when carrying out his duties. He was lauded and criticised in almost equal measure. But ‘doing God’ – or allowing your religious beliefs to impact upon your political outlook – does not need to be a negative thing. In fact, faith can be an immensely positive in politics and the society as long you interpret it correctly and of course you don’t try to force it on others. 

Politicians with faith might do well to stick their head above the parapet – after all we’re a nation of many religions and creeds: hearing about politicians’ faith as a part of political debate would be no bad thing and might even help to dispel and demystify some widely-held views about different religions, and might help to encourage more tolerance and understanding.

Any democracy functions at its best when it is truly representative of the people who elect it and increasingly Westminster is coming to better reflect modern Britain in terms of its religious ‘make up’. In 2015, for example, there were 13 Muslim MPs elected. This growing parliamentary diversity should be encouraged and celebrated. And how interesting it was to see Labour MP Naz Shah recently quoting from the Quran in a debate discussing banning Donald Trump from the UK. The quote that she used – from Surah (Ch41 V34) – teaches that good is better than evil.

For our political leaders to talk more about faith would merely be a reflection of our society in which faith plays such a pivotal role. The vast majority of people in the UK share the sort of values that are common to all religions, such as justice, hospitality, helping others, respect, charity and community. I am reminded of a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) survey about the contribution faith makes to society. It found that faith was seen as playing a ‘crucial role’ on issues such as human rights and peace-making and found that it plays a ‘constructive force’ for good and can have a positive influence in promoting social change.

Our political leaders must recognise that their own faith, if expressed openly, honestly and inclusively can gel society better. If our politicians were more willing to discuss faith, and embraced the core shared values that the great religions teach, we would all perhaps be better off.

* The author is a banking professional and a Kingston Lib Dem Member

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10 Comments

  • It’s a matter of individual belief (or not) and is an entirely private matter. Mr Blair was not a good example.

  • Wow. I’ve never disagreed with an LDV article more than I have this one. There has never been a more divisive and repressive force in the entire history of mankind than “faith”.

    You might think _your_ faith is a good thing. Plenty might not agree. Of all the things that might gel society better, I don’t see faith doing it.

    How about we replace “faith” with “being a decent human being”.

    You can have faith and be a decent human being, but it’s not a prerequisite.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '16 - 3:59pm

    I’m not religious, but I am in favour of reaching out to religious communities. When I was 21 I used to go to a baptist church two-three times per week, so I understand what can drive people to such communities. Most of them are very nice and we should be careful about calling people names if they have some illiberal opinions due to their faith.

    I prefer religion to be kept out of politics, but I understand how hard that is for some people. I’m in favour of non-judgement when it comes to genuine religious people, unless people are abusing their faith, such as Britain First or ISIS and al-Qaeda.

  • @Eddie Sammon

    I agree we shouldn’t call people names, but having “faith” does not excuse illiberal opinions. However it’s 2 different issues. I’m sure there are illiberal atheists, and liberal religious people (Tim!).

    I don’t have a problem with people choosing to have faith, but it has no place in Government. Our political leaders can keep their faith (or lack thereof) to themselves. I will get very twitchy if I ever hear a British PM saying he is following a particular policy because of his “faith”.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '16 - 4:17pm

    Hi Nick, I agree we should still argue against illiberal beliefs whatever the reason for them, but I think there is a problem with how the party has treated Tim Farron, Simon Hughes and John Pugh over their religious beliefs at times. People of all religions should be welcome in the party and it is unrealistic to expect that people will not consider their faith when it comes to voting.

    But it also comes down to what is the vision for the Liberal Democrats. If it wants liberal purity and to survive by changing the electoral system then fine, but if it wants to be a mass movement then it will need to budge a bit on religious issues, and not just for Christians of course.

  • Either you accept that your faith is no more a valid method of finding the truth than the faith of Father Neil Horan (noted for his “read the bible” protest at the 2003 British Grand Prix), or you put your faith in a higher position than the faith (or absence of faith) of other people. I don’t see any middle way on that.

    In the first case then you are a secular politician/voter, even if you personally believe. The second case is the road to walking through voting lobbies to protect your flock from the sin of Sunday trading and has nothing to do with liberalism.

  • This thread is about ‘religious faith’ and should referred to as such. As Andrew Page (above) suggests we can all have ‘faith’ in lots of different things. I for one am extremely happy that I am free from religious faith.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Mar '16 - 3:11pm

    When a politician claims the mantle of religious faith but manifestly fails to exemplify, both in their priorities, the values inherent in that faith, that is when their opponents can point to lack of credibility.

    I am far more interested in those politicians whose faith is the driving force of their politics, principles and values, and who exemplify them in their actions and words.

    We are fortunate to have a number of them in parliament and on a number of issues they coincide with those who do not share their faith. Where people of all faiths and none can work together for the common good, this is to be applauded.

    Things become more problematic when we hear siren voices trying to drive a wedge between people of faith and the rest of society. This suggests to me that these voices do not sufficiently understand the relationship between a person’s faith and their identity or indeed what motivates them to serve in the public sphere.

    I suspect these calls come from a motive to see all beliefs as personal truths each of equal or of no value. Of course, such a relativist ideology is as absolutist as the very tenets of faith they purport to reject.

    In a pluralist society which has its roots in a particular Christian history and culture, we cannot afford to rely on such a bland form of relativism to ‘guide’ our politics. It has no hinterland.

    I doubt very much that Gladstone could separate his faith from his public action, so it is disingenuous to expect our politicians to do so in 2016.

  • Gwyn Williams 12th Mar '16 - 9:34pm

    On a nitpicking point, here in Wales which is still part of the UK, the Church of England was disestablished in 1922 and the Church of Ireland which covers Northern Ireland was disestablished in 1869. The Church of Scotland is Presbyterian. This omission in the article does not explain the silmilarity between English and Welsh politics.

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