We asked Andrew Lewer, MP, the Chair of the All Parliamentary Group for independent education, and a friend of TISCA, to reflect on how he has seen pressure build on schools and on people of faith today.

Deuteronomy, 31:6

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

The Michaela School in Wembley, much praised by those who value rigor and structure in education and one of the most successful schools in the country, has been in the headlines of late. It has been burdened by a Legal Aid funded (that is to say, unwillingly funded by the taxes of my constituents funded) challenge about its secular approach to education in a part of London that is multi-faith but especially heavily Muslim. Additionally, we have Islamists threatening to close a primary school in Leyton and the horrendous and ongoing experience of a teacher at the hands of Islamists at a school in Batley, West Yorkshire. Alongside this, and in apparent and bewildering contrast, there are threats to teachers and to schools from those with a radical gender ideology as well. The challenges these situations, clearly on the rise, present to British society and to Christians in particular are profound.

As an MP they are important to me in that wider sense, but they also present challenges to me as a Christian. They have me asking the question about the role of Christianity in modern British society and whether secularism, more precisely the concept of ‘laïcité’ (so important to French society in particular but relevant here) is enough protection? One could see opportunities for the creation and growth of Christian independent schools from these growing controversies and threats perhaps, but we need to look more widely than that. It leads one to ponder whether the absence of sufficiently active faith in British society within the Judeo-Christian tradition is simply a matter of regret on a personal / faith community level or whether it has even broader implications for our future.

The very concept of western societies being based within a Judeo-Christian framework is now more contentious in the UK than it once was. Mrs Thatcher said: “The truths of the Judaic-Christian tradition, are infinitely precious, not only, as I believe, because they are true, but also because they provide the moral impulse which alone can lead to that peace, in the true meaning of the word, for which we all long.” She said this – as a serving Prime Minister – in 1988. I would not only suggest that a British Prime Minister saying this in 2024 is almost unimaginable, but that the reasons why this is should be a cause of profound reflection and indeed regret.

I frame my thoughts with the quotation from Deuteronomy because it is increasingly clear to me that both retaining a Judeo-Christian framework to our society (within which those of all faiths and none are welcome and secure) and proclaiming our faith and living it openly and seeking its blessings for others does now require more ‘good courage’ than has been the case for several centuries.

My father gave my son a working model of a bicycle for Christmas. It is a beautiful thing but looking at it makes me feel guilty for not using my bicycle in this cold weather! However, it also led me to imagine someone coasting along on a bicycle with their feet on the handlebars instead of on the pedals. It feels fine for a while, but then the wobbles begin and then there is a rapid and unwanted change of course and probably a crash. It is a vision of society relaxing into thinking that its laws, conventions and protections look after themselves and do not need any effort to sustain. It is a vision for me as a Christian to reflect that pedalling is required to keep a personal faith alive but also to work for it more publicly, too.

As someone who is now in their twenty first year of elected office, I have never hidden my faith and I do not think I have ever been embarrassed by it. However, I have been inspired to ‘pedal my bicycle’ in a much more open fashion by the strong Christian example of a number of newer political colleagues: Miriam Cates MP and Nick Fletcher MP in particular, although others too. I will never forget Nick’s Maiden Speech which concluded, “I believe Christ is the greatest role model anyone can have”; I was in awe of him for it.

Since then and thus fortified I have pitched into such controversies as defending silent prayer in public places and defending women’s rights rooted in biological facts. I have done so not in a ‘I am with you’ fashion but much more front-and-centre. It is not comfortable, but that such issues should even be contentious illustrates the need to step up. The National Prayer Breakfast held in Westminster Hall every year reveals that there are a substantial number of Christian MPs, but initially I was surprised that there were so many. That surprise leads me to a view that the need for Christians in politics to not only have faith but to express it more vocally and visibly is going to become ever more imperative.

Within teaching it seems that to “be strong and of a good courage” in standing up for Christian values is now often needed too. Prevailing trends make the Voltaire inspired quotation about disagreeing with you but defending your right to say it much less secure than was once the case. There is a playbook of first picking off those with views that are poorly expressed or seen as offending against ‘protected characteristics’, then comes a quiet reference as to why it would be best not to defend that person ‘because there is more to it than meets the eye’ and also ‘inappropriate to comment while a live investigation is taking place’. Christians have to speak up for and defend one another as never before. We are not the default position that we once were in British society.

It is why I think TISCA is so precious and why I am so inspired by those of its meetings I have been privileged to be invited to. What solace having other Christian teaching colleagues to share with – and have solidarity with – brings!

Andrew Lewer MBE, MP for Northampton South – and a former MEP

This article was first published in TISCA News and Views – Spring 2024 edition.

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