Twenty years ago this week that Alastair Campbell famously said “We don’t do God”. On 5th May 2003 Tony Blair was giving an interview to Vanity Fair when his head of communications interrupted the interview with what was probably a throw away quip but it has gone down in history as a mantra to live by for many politicians.
Twenty years on, do politicians still not do God or have times changed? We have seen many politicians and public figures brought down by their beliefs, whether in God, such as Tim Farron, or another apparently unpopular ideology such JK Rowling or Joanna Cherry. They have variously been deplatformed, shut down and even ostracised by their own party. But we have also seen politicians go against that perceived wisdom and openly wearing their faith on their sleeve such as Kate Forbes or indeed Humza Yousaf, Sadiq Khan or Rishi Sunak. All people of faith who do not hide it or try and distance themselves from their faith.
It feels like the public have moved far more on this issue that the media or our politicians who seem far quicker to question, attack and ridicule on the basis of faith, than the public themselves who are evidently far more understanding and accepting of people of faith.
We saw, during the recent leadership election for the SNP, questions on belief being asked of all the candidates. For years we have called for leaders of integrity and when faced with candidates who were willing to say not only what kind of country they want, but why they believe in that vision, the public responded positively.
Many conversations were held over those weeks that started with the phrase “I don’t agree with Kate Forbes views but I respect her for standing up for what she believes.” Ms Forbes did not shy away from her beliefs and made very clear that not only did she “do God” but it was central to everything that she stood for, believed in, her vision for Scotland and why she was standing to be leader. Her faith defined not only her character but her politics and she came within a couple of thousand votes of winning. She may have lost but she lost well, without losing herself or compromising her values which is probably something that not many politicians can ever say.
So are we entering a new type of politics in Scotland where the electorate demand more of our politicians? We are looking for honesty, integrity, to know why people believe in something not just what they believe. The public are definitely way ahead of the media on this one, and did not like attacks that were based on faith and belief and railed against them. Inevitably the media will catch up and start to report in a different way, that has always been the way of things in our culture, sometimes the media lead, sometimes they follow but eventually the paths cross.
‘We don’t do God’ is no longer a response that politicians (or comms experts) can make; politicians will be asked and rightly so. As an electorate we are demanding more of our politicians, asking them fundamental questions about their worldviews and where they stand on key issues. We no longer settle for fluff or bluster on questions concerning where they stand on key moral issues. When individuals are deplatformed for their views on certain topics, that typically generates news stories and debate on freedom of speech. We might not always like what people are saying but we always have to defend their right to speak and then engage with them in a constructive and winsome way.
So what about the church community, how do we help those in the public square “do God”. Pete Lynus from the Evangelical Alliance was speaking at an event recently and he challenged the church to think about how we engage with the public more effectively. In the post modern world we diluted our message to simple “God loves you” to avoid either conflict or appearing judgemental. But now in this society where people are defined, and define themselves, by our differences (intersectionality for those that want to study it more) we have a unique opportunity to respond.
Being faithful in the public square is back in vogue, it may be a passing phase, although I hope that it isn’t, but we should not be scared, or lacking in boldness when opportunities arise. Lets be courageous in doing God in politics. Let’s support those politicians that we know are Christians working hard in politics, write them or email to tell them that you are thinking and praying for them. Tell them when they have done something that you like and support them in their work, they will appreciate it. Too often Christians only engage with politicians when they are angry about something or oppose something, so lets engage positively as well.