Five years ago, Evangelical Times interviewed three MPs about their faith. Simoney Kyriakou caught up with the same men recently (in alphabetical order!), to see how God has worked in their lives since the 2010 general election.
David Burrowes, MP for Enfield Southgate, was first elected as an MP in 2005, having started his career as a criminal lawyer.
SK: How have you felt God leading you the past five years?
DB: In 2010, people cited a big distrust in politicians, so I believe God has shown me the need to affirm the positive, God-given value of authority over the past five years. There is a need for Christian MPs and others to show they are willing to serve, and to seek to act with truth and integrity. It has been good to do the right thing, with compassion, in several cases.
SK: What does compassion mean for politicians?
DB: We must examine policy to make sure we are standing up for the dignity of human life. Policy areas such as detention, trafficking, immigration and extradition are as important for Christians as the traditional votes on ‘ethical’ issues on the beginning and end of life.
SK: What about issues affecting Christians?
DB: There is an increasing awareness of the issue of religious freedom and persecution of Christians around the world. But there is also a fear about religious freedom in the UK. The big ‘Christian’ debate was when government redefined marriage. It was difficult for me to oppose a government bill: I was at the receiving end of a lot of hostility against me and my family; it was a costly time.
SK: How will the UK balance equality with religious freedom?
DB: We have a long way to go to get a sensible understanding of equality, so that this card does not trump people’s good conscience view. There is a way that we can allow respect for and tolerance of other people’s beliefs, and I hope we can have both equality before the law and freedom of speech.
SK: Is there a distinction between faith and policy?
DB: I think there is no distinction. There are classic issues where a conscience vote has to come into play, but I believe we should exercise our conscience on every issue and not get into a silo mentality, whereby Christians only lobby on issues such as sexuality, but do not lobby to improve justice or help refugees or get more people back into employment.
SK: What would you like ET readers to pray about?
DB: It is very challenging being an MP. The 24-hour media demands 24-hour attention. Constituents need you. Committees need you. And I have six children and a wife with whom I want to spend time, in fellowship. I want more time to read the Bible and pray. The church I attend, Enfield Evangelical Free Church, has been immensely supportive.
Politicians have to stand up and be counted — that is hard. So pray for all of us to uphold truth and integrity, in the run-up to the elections and beyond.
Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham and shadow secretary for employment, had been in government in 2010.
SK: How has the past five years been for you?
ST: It was a dramatic change. For 12 years I had been a minister and we had been in government for 13 years. It was not unexpected, but losing in 2010 was a shock and I had to get used to a different role and a different status.
However, I would say there have been advantages. For the past five years, I’ve had a chance for creative, positive thinking about policy matters, which you cannot always do when you have a department to run. Also, because the pressure has been less, there have been more opportunities to work in my constituency, such as setting up a political summer school for young people in my constituency.
SK: You have a predominantly Muslim constituency. How do they react to you?
ST: I’ve been in East Ham for 21 years and, before that, I was a local council leader, so people knew me. When I was considering running as a candidate for East Ham, the first person who rang me was the chairman of the Newham Muslim Association, who said, ‘You believe in God. We believe in God. Go for it’. I am also chairman of the all-parliamentary committee on faith and society and this helps me to understand others’ beliefs. Generally, they respect and value my faith.
SK: Didn’t you get stabbed by a radicalised Muslim?
ST: Yes. That was very sad. She had been radicalised and is now serving a long sentence. The Muslim community rallied round me, saying they were praying for my recovery. What I have found from my experience on committee and from my constituency is we have a shared set of values. We do not believe the same thing, but while our faith is distinct, we have common values.
SK: Did this shared set of values come into play over the gay marriage vote?
ST: I was very clear about it. I had supported our government in giving fairness in the form of civil partnerships, but marriage was inherently different. I voted against it, because I did not feel anyone could redefine marriage; it is God’s institution. And, at the very least, there is in a heterosexual partnership the potential for creation of new human beings. I could not have voted for gay marriage, so it was critical to have a conscience vote. Ed [Miliband] supported my right to such a vote.
SK: What is a big issue for you as a Christian?
ST: Poverty among Britons has burgeoned and the use of foodbanks has risen drastically. Christians have seen for themselves the awful poverty happening in their communities. There were roughly 50,000 people using foodbanks in 2010, after the financial crisis. Now there are more than 1 million. Tackling debt is important, but tackling poverty is the right thing to do.
SK: Is there anything for which you would like readers of ET to pray?
ST: I think what matters most for the UK is fairness. Ordinary people struggle. The hardest-up in society have been hammered. We need policies that can help people and, while there will be problems, we politicians need to deal with these challenges.
Steve Webb, Pensions Minister, MP for Thornbury and Yate, has used his front-bench role to usher in some huge financial changes.
SK: How has the past five years been for you?
SW: To have the chance to implement some of the issues I had long campaigned for as an opposition MP was an enormous privilege. As pensions minister, it was great to be able to put in place a five-year programme and bring about important reform.
SK: What can a Christian bring to pensions policy?
SW: It is about leaving a positive legacy, not chasing the next morning’s headlines. We will have to account for what we have done and so we should do something that lasts. There were times I thought that changes such as pension equality would not happen, so I have learned a lot about patience and perseverance.
As for being a positive influence, ‘Do no harm’ is a great place to start in politics. Make sure laws do not damage people. For example, with Sunday trading, the law should protect people from having to work on a Sunday.
SK: What is the importance of a conscience vote?
SW: It is vitally important. Thankfully, it has rarely been a problem. Everyone knows that, on a list of issues, our own views do not always divide on party lines. That said, I always say every issue is a moral issue. We can’t say, ‘This is a Christian issue; that is not’. We should approach every issue in the same way.
SK: Was it difficult being in a coalition?
SW: It’s always a challenge when nobody wins an election. Almost every day, there is give and take in a coalition and we may have to get used to that idea again in 2015. We stood on a package of measures in 2010 and did not win. But we did want the UK to have a stable government. Yes, it is tough; and Christians should support those in the political process who are trying to provide stability.
SK: Is there a lack of religious freedom?
SW: Globally? Yes. In the UK? Sometimes I hear from Christians who read an extreme case in the papers and it’s upsetting. I write back to explain this is an extreme case, which is why it is front-page news. Thankfully, in the UK, Christians are not a constrained minority. We must consume the media in a controlled and intelligent way. Yes, there are legitimate issues about freedom of expression, but we should be glad we live in a free society where we can express our faith and worship.
SK: Do you hang out with Christian MPs across the political spectrum?
SW: Clearly on a personal level we have an affinity. Absolutely. But we are diverse in our politics. I do meet other MPs for prayer in small groups when I can.
SK: Is there anything for which ET readers should pray?
SW: I am always encouraged by the prayer support I get. People in our church tell me they pray for us regularly, which is humbling, but I would value prayer for the mood of the nation at this time. Whoever people vote for, we all have to live with each other and value each other. We must have a united rather than a divided society.