John Stevens on Keir Starmer’s 1st Speech as Prime Minister

John Stevens on Keir Starmer’s 1st Speech as Prime Minister July 9, 2024

Sir Keir Starmer giving his first speech outside Number 10 Downing Street
Sir Keir Starmer giving his first speech outside Number 10 Downing Street. Source: Government YouTube Account

Today I welcome John Stevens the director of the UK’s Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches as a guest author.  He is writing about a Christian perspective on the  new Prime Minister’s speech outside Downing Street. Like Rishi Sunak this speech included a generous tribute to his opponent.

Here are some excerpts from the speech:

“Good afternoon… I have just returned from Buckingham Palace. Where I accepted an invitation from His Majesty the King. To form the next government of this great nation. I want to thank the outgoing Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.  His achievement as the first British Asian Prime Minister of our country. The extra effort that will have required should not be underestimated by anyone. We pay tribute to that today. And we also recognise the dedication and hard work he brought to his leadership.

But now our country has voted, decisively, for change. For national renewal.  And a return of politics to public service. When the gap between the sacrifices made by people, and the service they receive from politicians, grows this big., It leads to a weariness in the heart of a nation.  A draining away of the hope, the spirit, the belief in a better future. That we need to move forward, together . . . My government will serve you. Politics can be a force for good – we will show that. And that is how we will govern.  Country first, party second . . .

From now on. You have a government unburdened by doctrine. Guided only by a determination to serve your interests. To defy, quietly, those who have written our country off.

You have given us a clear mandate, And we will use it to deliver change. To restore service and respect to politics. End the era of noisy performance. Tread more lightly on your lives. And unite our country. Four nations. Standing together again. Facing down, as we have so often in our past. The challenges of an insecure world. Committed – to a calm and patient rebuilding. So with respect and humility, I invite you all. To join this government of service, In the mission of national renewal. Our work is urgent. And we begin it today.” Sir Keir Starmer, Prime Minister of the UK.

 

Watch the Video

 

 

Read John Steven’s thoughts on the Speech

Whether you think is a good thing that Sir Keir Starmer has become PM or not, his first speech from the lectern outside Downing Street on Friday morning was pitch-perfect for the occasion. He has hired the former speech writer of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and it shows!

It was not triumphalist and recognised that, whilst he had won the election he had not won public enthusiasm. It was much more low-key than Blair’s speech in comparable circumstances in 1997. If he means what he said it bodes well for his leadership. Several elements of his speech ought to resonate with evangelical Christians.

1. A gracious tribute to Sunak

He began with a gracious tribute and appreciation of outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Similarly, Sunak had been generous in his comments about Sir Keir.

The adversarial nature of politics means that leaders have to speak critically of each other, but there was nothing of the kind of language we have come to expect from Donald Trump or Nigel Farage. You have the sense of two decent people who recognise this quality in each other, and who know how difficult the job is.

As Christians, we need to make every effort to speak well of one another and to see the best in each other even when we disagree. The vast majority of leaders are not self-serving hypocrites, but trying to do their best with integrity. The rhetoric of bar-room politics ought to have no place in inter-evangelical discourse. We may disagree, even strongly, but need to be gracious at a personal level.

2. A commitment to service

Rather than declaring ‘we are the masters now’, Sir Keir Starmer promised ‘my government will serve you.’ He claimed that he had changed the Labour Party so that it had ‘returned to service.’

This is exactly what government is meant to be – exercising authority not in self-interest but to serve others.

This, of course, is the model of leadership that Jesus set for his disciples. He did not come to be served but to serve. He rebuked his disciples for wanting to lord it over others in the way of the Gentile rulers.

It remains to be seen whether Sir Keir can maintain this fine ambition in the face of events, and the ruthless self-promotion that drives so many politicians.

As evangelicals we might want to say that the role of government is primarily to serve God and that in the absence of faith in Christ, there is no adequate basis to sustain a servant mentality, especially in the face of suffering or sacrifice. However, it is a good thing to have a government committed to serving.

Sadly too many evangelicals and evangelical leaders pay lip service to Jesus’ ideal of serving whilst politicking with ruthless ambition and an ‘ends justifies the means’ attitude.

3. Unburdened by doctrine

Sir Keir said that his would be ‘a government unburdened by doctrine guided only by the determination to serve your interest.’

This is the claim that seems most alien to evangelicals as we value the importance of doctrine. It also seems implausible, since Sir Keir and the Labour Party do have a philosophy and values which shape their policies, for example, a vision of fairness and justice in society. That is a doctrine and doctrine is inescapable.

However, I think we all know what he means. His government will not be driven by doctrinaire convictions but with a degree of pragmatism which recognises what works in the real world. This is in contrast to ideological approaches that are convinced that a rigid doctrine provides the solution to every problem. This has been seen in government rigidly committed to Marxism, free-market capitalism, gender ideology or a particular version of Brexit.

Many decisions in life are not determined by pure doctrinal principles but require the exercise of wisdom judgements in real-life situations. There has been a tension within evangelicalism between very tight and detailed doctrinal systems that seek to resolve all issues and provide black-and-white clarity in pastoral situations, and an approach which sees doctrine as setting boundaries/parameters within which there can be diversity and wisdom judgement.

I prefer this second approach, and it is what FIEC has stood for since 1922. Some doctrines are crystal clear in Scripture, but many issues are not. There are good arguments for different beliefs and practices. They have not been resolved in 2000 years of church history, and people of equal commitment to the authority of God’s word reach different conclusions.

We have to make real-world choices, but we ought to have the humility to recognise that on many issues they are judgment calls. Our doctrine is more provisional than we might imagine. In contrast to more extensive Confessional positions, evangelical Anglicans and FIEC have more minimalist confessions that leave much to individual conscience and local practice.

4. Serving those who did not vote for you

Finally, Sir Keir committed to serve those who had not voted Labour. He said that we would put country first and party second.
This attitude is also essential for evangelicals. Rarely will any leader who is appointed in the church enjoy unanimous support. Rarely does a pastor receive a 100% call. In churches with no congregational vote, there may be a body of malcontents at an appointment made without their consent. Many decisions in church life will alienate some who disagree and want something different.

It is incumbent on leaders to seek to serve everyone in the body – and especially those who do not agree. We are not to serve only a clique or section of the body, those who are our natural supporters, even if they constitute a majority. We are called to serve all.

Sir Keir Starmer has set himself high standards in his speech, and we would do well to pray for him that he might stand by his commitments in the crucible of real-world decision-making, and the unpopularity of inevitable hard choices. Serving people is not the same as people pleasing. He has committed to Jesus-like leadership without faith in Jesus and the help of his indwelling Holy Spirit, which is a tall order for anyone.
How much more do we need prayer as church leaders to be those who lead like Jesus? To be gracious to others, to be committed to service not mastery, to be doctrinal but not doctrinaire, and to serve even those who did not choose us.
I’m glad to see Sir Stephen Timms has been appointed Minister of State in the Department for Work and Pensions. An evangelical Christian in the government.

Jonathan Reynolds, Secretary of State for Business and Trade and President of the Board of Trade, is also a Christian and member of ‘Christians in Parliament’.

John Stevens

Lets pray for the whole new UK government, and especially the Christians

Watch my interview with John

About John Stevens

John Stevens
John Stevens, Director of the FIEC

John Stevens is the FIEC National Director, a role he has held since September 2010. Alongside his FIEC responsibilities, he is one of the pastors of Christchurch Market Harborough, a member of the Affinity Council, and on the Word Alive Event Organising Team.

John teaches on courses at Oak Hill Theological College, Edinburgh Theological Seminary, Union School of Theology and the Cornhill Training Course. He is the editor of Independent Church: Bible-Shaped and Gospel-Driven and the author of How Can I Be Sure?: And Other Questions About Doubt, Assurance and the Bible.

Born and raised in Birmingham, John studied Law at Cambridge University where he became a Christian in his final year. He then taught Law for sixteen years and served as the Deputy Head of the Law Faculty at the University of Birmingham.

John is married to Ursula and they have four children. He writes regularly for his blog Dissenting Opinion at john-stevens.com.

READ MORE

Servant Leadership in Politics and the Church: Pastoral Care

UK Election: Political Transition with Dignity and Respect

Keir Starmer vs Rishi Sunak Debate: A Christian View

Why Does Trump the Felon Still Have Evangelical Support?

Leaders: remember the reason for your leadership 

 

 

About Adrian Warnock
Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor. He worked as a psychiatrist and in the pharmaceutical industry on clinical trials. He has been a Christian writer since 2003 and is a published author. Alongside his career Adrian also served on a church leadership team. He was diagnosed with blood cancer in May 2017 and is the founder of Blood Cancer Uncensored an online patient support group. Adrian is passionate about helping people learn to approach suffering with hope and compassion. Adrian qualified in 1995 with an MB BS medical degree from London University (in the USA this would be called an MD). Adrian also has post graduate qualifications in both Psychiatry (MRCPsych) and Pharmaceutical Medicine (MFFM and DipPharmMed). He studied theology through courses organised by Newfrontiers. You can read more about the author here.
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