First published by The Independent, 28th November 2016
In a rare interview with the Sunday Times, our Prime Minister Theresa May discussed her personal faith and the impact her beliefs have on the decisions she makes as a politician. May described herself as a “practicing member of the Church of England” and said that her faith in God “lies behind what I do”.
To me, Theresa May’s interview not only betrays her eye-watering arrogance, but also her wilful misinterpretation of the core values of Christianity. Sure, the Old Testament might be full of murder and barbarism and “don’t cut your hair at the sides of your head” (Leviticus 19:27), but the teachings of Jesus are the absolute focal point of Christian belief.
Jesus loved the poor, the dispossessed, and those who found themselves on the fringes of society. He dined with the hated tax collector and refused to recognise the divide between Jews and the Samaritans. For Christians, he is the ultimate symbol of humility, compassion and love.
Unfortunately, Theresa May doesn’t seem to have read her New Testament very closely. She has almost always voted for the use of UK forces in combat operations overseas. She was in favour of sending UK troops into Iraq in 2003, and the coalition’s military intervention and the ensuing civil war has cost more than 187,000 documented civilian lives. Instead of being the military leader that many Jews had expected, Jesus is consistently described as a man of peace. I doubt he’d be impressed by the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq.
In December 2014, Theresa May voted against scrapping the hated Bedroom Tax, a failed Tory policy that has penalised some of Britain’s most vulnerable families. Research carried out by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) found that 75 per cent of those affected by the Bedroom Tax were forced to cut back on the most basic necessity – food. The Bedroom Tax has been used to penalise women living in fear of violent ex-partners and those struggling after terrible bereavements. Perhaps Theresa May believes that because “the poor are blessed and in line to inherit the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), they can be trampled and degraded by Tory policy here on earth.
April 2016 saw May vote against allowing 3,000 unaccompanied children to find a safe haven in the UK. Jesus said something about how little children should come unto him because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14), but maybe Theresa May didn’t get the memo?
May voted to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act in May of this year, because basic human rights are just a little too inconvenient when it comes to deporting people. She’s never been a big fan of the HRA, even making a misleading statement at the Conservative Party Conference in 2011, alleging that a man couldn’t be deported because of his pet cat. This turned out not to be true, but it managed to get the right wing press frothing at the mouth anyway. Christians are taught to “love their neighbours” (Mark 12:31), but perhaps Theresa May believes that increasing deportations is a form of “love”.
I’m not personally a believer, but I was brought up in a Christian household. I attended a United Reformed Church until I was 18, and the sermons tended to focus on “doing unto others as you would be done unto” and the importance of helping those in need, even when it’s personally inconvenient to do so.
If Jesus were here, in Theresa May’s Britain, he’d be helping the 3,500 people sleeping rough this winter. This is double the number counted in 2010, caused in no small part by Tory policy. He’d be trying to make a difference to the lives of Britain’s most vulnerable people – the vulnerable women detained in Yarl’s Wood without charge (many have suffered rape and torture in their home countries), and the one in four children who live in poverty, cold and hungry in one of the most wealthy nations on earth. He’d probably have had his benefits sanctioned more than once.
May has inherited an austere and heartless government, but the Autumn Statement under her leadership shows little commitment to change. If Theresa May is a Christian, I can only assume that her interpretation of scripture is very, very loose.