Thursday, April 11, 2013


IT IS hard to imagine a prime minister doing such a thing now, and even then it seemed rather surprising. In May 1988 Margaret Thatcher went to the General Assembly of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland and gave what would soon be called the Sermon on the Mound. It was an impassioned statement of a certain form of Christianity. The Conservative leader stressed individual salvation over social reform, the legitimacy of moneymaking when combined with altruism, and the “responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ”.

In religion, as in so much else, Mrs (later Lady) Thatcher was a bundle of paradoxes. She was the last British prime minister openly and emphatically to acknowledge the influence of Christianity on her thinking, in particular terms not fuzzy ones.

Precisely because she had such well-defined ideas, Mrs Thatcher was almost bound to have stormy relations with England’s established religion. In her time, the Archbishop of Canterbury was Robert Runcie (pictured above), an Oxford contemporary who irked her considerably. A decorated tank commander, he commemorated the Argentine dead at a service following the Falklands war; he produced “Faith in the City”, a left-wing tract on urban blight; and he chided the government for demonising its opponents. Mrs Thatcher preferred the chief rabbi, Immanuel Jakobovits, who shared her view that self-improvement, not subsidies, would relieve poverty.

She helped to ensure that Archbishop Runcie was succeeded by George Carey, an unpretentious evangelical who this week remembered her as a person of “uncomplicated but very strong faith”.
Thatcher's political philosophy, nurtured by her view of Christianity that little resembles the Gospel, put the baroness squarely on the side of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps and not looking to the government for support.  Her speech makes for quite an interesting read, and it's easy to see why she and Runcie did not get on, and why she wished to insure that he was not followed by another archbishop who would write "left-wing tracts" against war and sympathizing with the plight of the poor and unemployed.   Thatcher speaks of the Kingdom of God in her speech:
The New Testament is a record of the Incarnation, the teachings of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Again we have the emphasis on loving our neighbour as ourselves and to "Do-as-you-would-be-done-by".

I believe that by taking together these key elements from the Old and New Testaments, we gain: a view of the universe, a proper attitude to work, and principles to shape economic and social life.

We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth. "If a man will not work he shall not eat" wrote St. Paul to the Thessalonians. Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy which derives from the very nature of Creation.
Thatcher's view of the Kingdom of God sounds very like the prosperity gospel preached today.  All Christians are meant to be prosperous, and those who are poor - well it's their own doing.