‘God is not a Conservative, but Christianity led me to the party’ – not my testimony but that of Tim Montgomerie, founder of the unofficial but highly influential ConservativeHome website. It’s the headline for an interview in this week’s New Statesman (15 March 2010).
And how did Christianity lead him to the Tories? The answer was ‘because of what I believe about family and individual responsibility’. Not, apparently, the radical message of the gospels in the magnificat, the beatitudes or Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God. If anything about Christian faith could provide a basis for involvement in politics, I would have thought it should be that.
Many Christians do go on about the family. According to the gospels, though, Jesus himself had questions about the family because of its potential to get in the way of the priorities of the kingdom. It wasn’t that Jesus was against loving, committed relationship but just that he wanted to blow it out of the narrow confines even of extended family, let alone our nuclear families - to universalise it. Family values is too small a vision for Christian faith.
Individual responsibility – that’s not good even for a ‘me and God’ kind of faith. It smacks too much of ‘there’s no such thing as society, just individuals’. There is a communal or collective aspect to Christian faith. Churches recognise that, for example, in baptism and communion. We collectively, rather than a collection of individuals, are the body of Christ. There is a personal responsibility for our actions and relationships but that is not the same as individual responsibility.
How tragic for Tim Montgomerie and for those he influences that a faith once experienced as turning the world upside down should come to be reduced to family and individual responsibility.