Actually, according to some British academics I know, very, but thatâ€™s another story. Thanks to Scott Clark via Martin Downes via Cranmer comes the text of the Iron Ladyâ€™s speech before the 1988 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Here are some of the highlights:
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”.
That may not be the best theology upon which to construct a two-kingdoms position, but it sure beats most of the doctrine to come from the speech writers for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
She went on:
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”.
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. . . .
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.
Again, Mrs. Thatcher might have benefitted from courses at Westminster California, but her larger point about the lack of specifics in the New Testament about the social and political order is one that two-kingdom proponents second. So also her call for courtesy and respect when disagreeing â€“ is name calling really necessary?
The Prime Ministeretteâ€™s knees went a little wobbly, as so many politicians do, when the thought of Abraham â€“ not the father of Godâ€™s chosen people but Lincoln, the father of the U.S.â€™s second republic â€“ came up:
To assert absolute moral values is not to claim perfection for ourselves. No true Christian could do that. What is more, one of the great principles of our Judaic-Christian inheritance is tolerance. People with other faiths and cultures have always been welcomed in our land, assured of equality under the law, of proper respect and of open friendship. There’s absolutely nothing incompatible between this and our desire to maintain the essence of our own identity. There is no place for racial or religious intolerance in our creed.
When Abraham Lincoln spoke in his famous Gettysburg speech of 1863 of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”, he gave the world a neat definition of democracy which has since been widely and enthusiastically adopted. But what he enunciated as a form of government was not in itself especially Christian, for nowhere in the Bible is the word democracy mentioned. Ideally, when Christians meet, as Christians, to take counsel together their purpose is not (or should not be) to ascertain what is the mind of the majority but what is the mind of the Holy Spirit â€” something which may be quite different.
But she recovered well enough to finish on a strong note (even if it meant quoting a hymn rather than a psalm):
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 â€” but soul by soul â€” and each one counts.
If only American civil religion â€“ both evangelical and theonomic â€“ were as capable of such nuance.