The Strange Death of Liberal England

There’s talk of liberalism coming to end. Brexit and Trump are apparently signalling the demise of cosy liberal values; conservative movements in Europe are growing and centrist politicians are looking increasingly out of touch. So what is liberalism? Should we as Christians be liberal? Let’s have some definitions.

Economic liberalism. William Gladstone, Liberal British Prime Minister and statesman gave his name to laissez faire economic management in which the government seeks to avoid interfering in the economy. The market will always adjust itself, the state must be a passive observer. Many call this failing to help the weak.

Social liberalism. Live and let live. Leave others alone to live their lives and never seek to restrict or interfere. Lately, these ‘liberals’ have shown their intolerance for others’ views. These are the people who are simply appalled that you don’t accept gay marriage and they take Christian bakers to court for not promoting their cause. We call this bigotry.

Theological liberalism. These folk don’t like accepting God’s word at face value; they would seek to interpret it through their own lens and wisdom. Gone are miracles and Christ’s resurrection; they seek to make faith more believable and modern. We used to call this unbelief.

Political liberalism. The heirs of the British Whig party in Parliament were the Liberals. By the 1980s, these had become the Lib Dems. A small and increasingly squeaky voice in British politics, they were displaced by both Labour and the Conservatives. Many now regard them as irrelevant.

One of the few references to being liberal in the Bible is Romans 12:8: ‘he who gives, [give] with liberality’. I’m not interested in political, social, economic or theological liberalism. But the gospel demands we be liberal with our time, money and love. Using that definition, may we be liberals.