We’re now at the end of series 1 of Politics at the Cross+Roads. The goal of this series has been to hold conversations with British-based, public Christians from across the political and theological spectrum. I’ve sought to learn about how each of my guest’s political convictions intersect with their faith. In the course of the series, I’ve spoken with seven guests: Giles Fraser, Mary Harrington, Nigel Biggar, Jonathan Aitken, Tim Farron, Hannah Rich and Matt Wilson.
In this final, solo-episode, I reflect a bit more personally on what I have learned from these conversations. I’ll be discussing my renewed appreciation for the liberal tradition; how Paul’s letter to the Corinthians addresses ones of the pressing questions of our age—the preservation of unity amidst diversity; and why liberal conservatism, particularly where it is undergirded by Christian faith, creates the best conditions for unity within diversity and for cultivating virtue.
On cultural conservatism see Peter Franklin’s article: https://unherd.com/thepost/the-difference-between-social-and-cultural-conservatism/ and Matt Singh’s piece: https://unherd.com/thepost/the-difference-between-social-and-cultural-conservatism/
The conflation of liberalism with progressivism is widespread, particularly in the US. To take just one example, Jonathan Haidt in his The Righteous Mind uses the terms interchangeably.
On what unites Christians, see Paul’s proto-creed in 1 Corinthians 15: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+corinthians+15&version=NIV and on the Apostles’ Creed see https://lexhampress.com/product/147146/the-apostles-creed-a-guide-to-the-ancient-catechism
In episode 7, the penultimate episode of this series, I was pleased to speak with Matt Wilson. Hailing from Manchester, Matt is Managing Director of Goodlabs, a management consultancy helping organisations to enhance their social impact. Matt is also a Labour and Cooperative councillor based in North Shields in the North-west of England.
In our conversation, we discussed the overlap and tension between Matt’s political convictions and the pentecostal tradition he grew up in, the scriptural roots of common philanthropy or collective giving and the importance of considering the structural nature of injustices in society.
You can access a podcast version of this episode here.
For episode 6, I had the honour of sitting down to speak with Hannah Rich. Hannah is Vice-Chair of Christians on the Left, the organisation that supports, resources and networks Christians involved on the left of politics in the UK. Hannah is also Senior Researcher at London-based religion and society think-tank, Theos. Hannah has researched and written on a range of issues, but most centrally on social and economic inequality.
In our conversation, we discussed what Christians have to say on the problem of and potential solutions to economic inequality, the effects of the pandemic on the church and its social action…and the immense value and challenge of staying united when we disagree with others, whether in the Church or in a political party. I hope that you enjoy the conversation.
For a shorter version of this conversation in podcast form, see the iTunes episode guide here.
But we’re now almost a year on from the announcement of the first lockdown in the UK. And it was a year ago to the day that I started this diary. I therefore thought it a good moment to reflect personally on where I find myself.
To that end, I want to write about how lockdown has taught me the value of liberty, “rightly ordered”. My launching pad for doing so has been a series of conversations with friends and guests on the Politics at the Cross+Roads podcast (the issue has cropped up in a number of places, but one place to start is this solo episode). I partly started the video series to figure out a few things about myself, a bit like trying to map out my own corner of the sky against a set of constellation points. It’s therefore not surprising to me that convictions have taken shape, with some becoming stronger and others falling away. Even still, I have been surprised at how strong some of those convictions have become. And one of these has concerned the value of liberty.
For episode 5, I had the pleasure of sitting down to speak with Tim Farron, MP. Tim is the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmoreland and Lonsdale in Cumbria and was leader of the Liberal Democrats between 2015 and 2017. He is the author of A Better Ambition: Confessions of a Faithful Liberal published by SPCK in 2019.
Tim spoke to me about the need for greater humility among liberals across the Western world, about the Christian roots of liberalism and the Liberal party in the UK and about the need to disagree well. My conversation with Tim was slightly shorter than some of the others and this is due to the fact that I caught Tim on the night the budget was released. My thanks to Tim for generously offering his time on a very busy evening.
A podcast version of this conversation is available here.
For the fourth episode of Politics at the Cross+Roads, I sat down to speak with Jonathan Aitken. Jonathan was Conservative MP and cabinet member before he was dramatically sentenced to 7 months at Belmarsh prison for perjury in 1999. Following his conversion to Christianity, Jonathan trained for ministry in the Church of England and now serves as non-stipendiary priest at St Matthew’s Westminster in London, and as prison chaplain at Pentonville Prison. We had a delightful conversation about prison rehabilitation, the power of forgiveness in a culture that is losing the will to forgive (at least collectively, if not on the individual level), about his Anglo-Catholic evangelical faith and about the need for Christians to be small-p political in their involvement in public life. You can find this interview and others on iTunes in both short and long format here.
In the third episode of Politics at Cross+Roads, I had the pleasure of speaking with Christian ethicist, Nigel Biggar. Nigel is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Christchurch College, University of Oxford. Before that, he taught theology and ethics Leeds and Trinity College, Dublin. Nigel has written on pretty much all the big topics in ethics and public life—war and peace, medical ethics and euthanasia, the nation, empire and much more. He also has a new book out on rights with Oxford University Press.
In the course of the episode, we discussed rights and duties in the context of the pandemic, thinking Christianly about the nation and the importance of realism. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
You can listen to the shorter podcast episode here on iTunes.
In the second episode of Politics of the Cross+Roads, I spoke with the writer Mary Harrington. Mary is a columnist for Unherd and her work has appeared in, among other places, the Spectator, the Plough, the Conservative Woman and SDPTalk. Mary’s writing has had a big influence on my own thinking around liberal individualism, freedom of speech and the need for reconstruction in the late-modern west.
Mary spoke a great deal in our conversation about her experience of motherhood and how this has shaped her politics. Mary also discussed limits and progress, how humans are inherently religious creatures and how her local church community roots her in something bigger than herself. I hope that you enjoy listening.
You can also listen to a shortened version of this on iTunes here or in its entirety here.
Throughout the ages, John has been often been referred to as “the spiritual gospel”. Some have used this moniker to describe John’s interest in deeper, theological truths (and on some occasions, the erroneous corollary was drawn that John was disinterested in historical matters). But another way that we can think of John’s gospel as a spiritual gospel is its many references to the spirit, and its emphasis on the coming of the Holy Spirit. In this post, I want to draw out two aspects of the Spirit in John’s Gospel that have struck me as I’ve read and listened to the Fourth Gospel, and examine how John’s account of the Spirit has informed, and can continue to inform the Church’s pneumatology. These two aspects are the noetic role of the Spirit, in reminding Jesus’s disciples of who he is, and the ontological role of the Spirit as the agent that unites us to the Son and unites the Son to us.
In this first video in the Politics at the Cross+Roads series, Giles Fraser talks about how he sees the relationship between socialism and conservatism, about whether the pandemic is a post liberal moment and how the local church roots us in a place and in community.
You can also listen to this episode in shorter form here or in its entirety over on iTunes here.