Thatcher on Christianity and Politics

We can use more leaders like Margaret Thatcher:

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. While leftists (be they secular or “Christian”) hated her, she was in the opinion of many one of the more important leaders during a major time of real crisis.

Consider just the Cold War that was raging during her reign as an example. It is now widely acknowledged that she, along with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul 2, were the key influences in seeing the Iron Curtain come crashing down and the end of godless Communism, at least in the USSR and Eastern Europe.

As John O’Sullivan said in his 2006 book about these three champions, The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister:

In all three cases – Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul – it is a spiritual element that best explains them and their achievements. All three, in subtly different ways, taught and embodied the virtue of hope. John Paul’s sermons and speeches in Poland were injunctions to people not to despair in the face of overwhelming force, but instead to hope in God and trust their fellow man. Reagan preached confidently of a coming age of liberty that would bring about the end of Communism. Thatcher believed in “vigorous virtues” that, once liberated from the shackles of socialism, would enable the British and people everywhere to improve their own lives. In very different styles, all were enthusiasts for liberty.

See more on this here:

Here I want to look a bit more at Thatcher and her faith and her political commitments. And I draw upon just one speech of hers. It was delivered on May 21, 1988 to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. The 2000-word speech is well worth reading in its totality but let me share major portions of it here for you. Early on she says this:

Perhaps it would be best, Moderator, if I began by speaking personally as a Christian, as well as a politician, about the way I see things. Reading recently, I came across the starkly simple phrase: “Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform”.


Sometimes the debate on these matters has become too polarised and given the impression that the two are quite separate. But most Christians would regard it as their personal Christian duty to help their fellow men and women. They would regard the lives of children as a precious trust. These duties come not from any secular legislation passed by Parliament, but from being a Christian.


But there are a number of people who are not Christians who would also accept those responsibilities. What then are the distinctive marks of Christianity? They stem not from the social but from the spiritual side of our lives, and personally, I would identify three beliefs in particular:


First, that from the beginning man has been endowed by God with the fundamental right to choose between good and evil. And second, that we were made in God’s own image and, therefore, we are expected to use all our own power of thought and judgement in exercising that choice; and further, that if we open our hearts to God, He has promised to work within us. And third, that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when faced with His terrible choice and lonely vigil chose to lay down His life that our sins may be forgiven. I remember very well a sermon on an Armistice Sunday when our Preacher said, “No one took away the life of Jesus, He chose to lay it down”.


I think back to many discussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither. And they will not come again unless you nurture the roots. But we must not profess the Christian faith and go to Church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behaviour; but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ expressed so well in the hymn:


“When I survey the wondrous Cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.”


May I also say a few words about my personal belief in the relevance of Christianity to public policy—to the things that are Caesar’s?


The Old Testament lays down in Exodus the Ten Commandments as given to Moses, the injunction in Leviticus to love our neighbour as ourselves and generally the importance of observing a strict code of law. 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”.

She continues:

I confess that I always had difficulty with interpreting the Biblical precept to love our neighbours “as ourselves” until I read some of the words of C.S. Lewis. He pointed out that we don’t exactly love ourselves when we fall below the standards and beliefs we have accepted. Indeed we might even hate ourselves for some unworthy deed.


None of this, of course, tells us exactly what kind of political and social institutions we should have. On this point, Christians will very often genuinely disagree, though it is a mark of Christian manners that they will do so with courtesy and mutual respect. What is certain, however, is that any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm.


We are all responsible for our own actions. We can’t blame society if we disobey the law. We simply can’t delegate the exercise of mercy and generosity to others. The politicians and other secular powers should strive by their measures to bring out the good in people and to fight down the bad: but they can’t create the one or abolish the other. They can only see that the laws encourage the best instincts and convictions of the people, instincts and convictions which I’m convinced are far more deeply rooted than is often supposed.


Nowhere is this more evident than the basic ties of the family which are at the heart of our society and are the very nursery of civic virtue. And it is on the family that we in government build our own policies for welfare, education and care.


You recall that Timothy was warned by St. Paul that anyone who neglects to provide for his own house (meaning his own family) has disowned the faith and is “worse than an infidel”. We must recognise that modern society is infinitely more complex than that of Biblical times and of course new occasions teach new duties. In our generation, the only way we can ensure that no-one is left without sustenance, help or opportunity, is to have laws to provide for health and education, pensions for the elderly, succour for the sick and disabled.


But intervention by the State must never become so great that it effectively removes personal responsibility. The same applies to taxation; for while you and I would work extremely hard whatever the circumstances, there are undoubtedly some who would not unless the incentive was there. And we need their efforts too.

And she concludes with these words:

I am an enthusiast for democracy. And I take that position, not because I believe majority opinion is inevitably right or true—indeed no majority can take away God-given human rights—but because I believe it most effectively safeguards the value of the individual, and, more than any other system, restrains the abuse of power by the few. And that is a Christian concept.


But there is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women in democratic societies cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves. Political structures, state institutions, collective ideals—these are not enough.


We Parliamentarians can legislate for the rule of law. You, the Church, can teach the life of faith. But when all is said and done, the politician’s role is a humble one. I always think that the whole debate about the Church and the State has never yielded anything comparable in insight to that beautiful hymn “I Vow to Thee my Country”. It begins with a triumphant assertion of what might be described as secular patriotism, a noble thing indeed in a country like ours:


“I vow to thee my country all earthly things above; entire, whole and perfect the service of my love”.


It goes on to speak of “another country I heard of long ago” whose King can’t be seen and whose armies can’t be counted, but “soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase”. Not group by group, or party by party, or even church by church—but soul by soul—and each one counts.


That, members of the Assembly, is the country which you chiefly serve. You fight your cause under the banner of an historic Church. Your success matters greatly—as much to the temporal as to the spiritual welfare of the nation. I leave you with that earnest hope that may we all come nearer to that other country whose “ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.”

Terrific stuff. But you would never hear such words today from a Joe Biden, an Anthony Albanese, an Emmanuel Macron, or a Justin Trudeau. God bless you Margaret Thatcher. We need more champions like you.

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6 Replies to “Thatcher on Christianity and Politics”

  1. That would be the Margaret Thatcher under whose tenure the 1967 Abortion Act was liberalised so it became possible to abort disabled unborn babies until the time of birth, would it? Unlike Ronald Reagan, Thatcher was no friend of the unborn child. Since that dark day, many UK pro-life campaigners, such as my dear friend the late Alison Davies and the courageous young Heidi Crowter have been trying to have this reprehensible state of affairs reversed. Heidi (who has Down Syndrome) is taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that the current permissive state of affairs is monstrously discriminatory to unborn children diagnosed with her disability in the womb. Thatcher’s Conservatives have been no help whatsoever either. Under the current Tory tenure, abortion has been introduced to Northern Ireland and ‘buffer zones’ prevent pro-life free speech outside abortion clinics in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    I deeply admired and respected Ronald Reagan, who built a strong foundation for subsequent pro-life advances in the United States. However, and with all due respect, Bill, when it comes to that woman, there was a considerable dichotomy between her honied words and her actions while in office, particularly when it came to the rights of the unborn child.

  2. Like so many others Rhona, I wish she had been better on the abortion issue. She was poor on homosexuality as well at first, but later acknowledged that was a big mistake. But in some many other areas she was certainly better than her opposition. As Thomas Sowell always asks, “Compared to what…?” Trump is similar. He has flip-flopped on things like abortion and homosexuality. But compared to Biden and the Dems, I will take him any day of the week. In a fallen world there are NO perfect politicians or human beings – you and I included. So we must choose from what is available to us.

  3. Great post on Thatcher sad Truss who wanted to follow Thatcher in Some ways was taken out

  4. Thank you Bill for your incredible research and for revealing the deep faith of Margaret Thatcher. We desperately need many leaders like her.
    The tribute to her and 2 other insightful leaders is so well deserved: ‘…she, along with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul 2, were the key influences in seeing the Iron Curtain come crashing down and the end of godless Communism, at least in the USSR and Eastern Europe.’

  5. Brilliant, one of your best!

    But as to the last lines, you will never hear these words from a Donald Trump either, don’t lose that.

  6. Indeed. Democracy only works where free speech is allowed – it then enables the combined thinking of all people to come up with reasonable solutions.

    Where democracy demonstrably fails is when arguments are shut down, free speech is oppressed and propaganda prevails such as in Nazi Germany and “Our ABC”.

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