To what can we attribute our current political malaise? The problems are legion; the NHS surgery waiting list hit 6.84 million in July 2022, economic growth is anaemic, and the number of people waiting more than a year for justice in the courts has grown by 302% to 11,379.
And the problems don’t stop there, Mortgage rates are rising, there are increasing amounts of sewage in our waterways and despite a rise in job vacancies, the number of post-50s leaving the workforce continues to increase.
Five Prime Ministers in seven years and a global pandemic certainly don’t help. It is clear to see that both the political turmoil and the impact of COVID are directly responsible for much of the angst facing British citizens. Yet there is also a sense, that far beyond the material challenges facing our nation there are several chronic cultural problems too.
There is a “general struggle in Britain to debate respectfully and fully, with even university students retreating into ‘safe spaces’ and ‘no platform’ policies simply so they do not have to encounter ideas they find uncomfortable. Arguing and disagreeing is too much effort: much better to hate, resent and, in extreme cases, abuse and attack.”
The culture war debates over the definition of a woman, hate crimes, and free speech point to a deeper division playing out in our society. And the ever-increasing tilt towards individualism, both from the right in its neo-liberal form, and from the left in its progressive identity politics guise, is eroding common bonds and gradually undermining, and ultimately voiding any sense of the common good or communal society.
Within all of this is a moral chasm, a society with no discernible nor comprehensible moral framework capable of dealing with the challenges of our time. Though ‘Christian’ in the sense of having an established state church, true Christianity holds little sway in actively shaping the values and virtues of society.
Celebrated for some of its good work, be that contributing to foodbanks or housing refugees, the contribution of true Christianity as a foundational element of our national story has been dismantled, jeered, and discarded.
Our constitution prevents this from happening wholesale with both Parliamentary procedure and the monarchy intrinsically tied to the Church of England and its liturgy. Nonetheless, few could deny that Christianity is at best a sideshow in our national political conversation.
Instead, our moral discourse is characterised by a cold humanism whose most eminent values centre around ‘choice’ and a narcissistic individual expressionism tempered only by the weakly defined and meekly applied concepts of ‘consent’ and ‘harm’. Even our moral language has become tired and empty.
We appear instead to be living within the dying days of ‘Christendom’, and as a result “there will be lasting upheaval at every level of society, from the level of politics to the level of the soul. The shape of everything — family, work, moral attitudes, the very existence of morals at all, notions of good and evil, sexual mores, perspectives on everything from money to rest to work to nature to the body to kin to duty — all of it will be up for grabs.”
Amidst all this, many seem to be baffled at the lethargy and moral confusion facing our communities; some simply deny the challenges of our age, others speak in vague terms about British values and point to the need to listen to one another and ‘be kind’.
And still things continue to deteriorate.
The gift of Christianity
William Wilberforce, best known for fighting the slave trade, would have little of comfort to say to our technocratic, humanist age. In ‘A Practical View of Christianity’ first published in 1797, he decries the empty morals of his day.
Dealing with a ‘cultural Christianity’ rather than the avowedly secular atheism of our day, Wilberforce argues that the good and perfect society which his society (and later ours) proclaims to value can only be found within the true doctrines of the Christian faith, and that to forsake these doctrines is to abandon the values too.
“But in this way the fatal habit, of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines, insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight; and, as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment, began to wither and decay.”
This is not, however, a campaign for nominal Christianity in which Christianity is imposed at the point of the sword. Wilberforce shows outright antipathy towards such moralising. Christianity, he contends, cares little for the appearance of virtue.
Such a distinction is crucial. Whilst the mere pretence of Christianity results in nominalism and a profound legalism incapable of transforming the heart, true Christianity alone has the power to transform hearts. Is this not one of the great lessons of Scripture? For Paul writes ‘For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.’
This redemptive work is continued by the sanctifying work of the Spirit. A work that offers true hope for personal, and wider societal transformation.
“Christianity, be it remembered, proposes not to extinguish our natural desires, but to bring them under just control, and direct them to their true objects… and while she represses our solicitude respecting earthly credit, and moderates our attachment to it, she holds forth to us, and bids us habitually to aspire after, the splendours of that better state, where is true glory, and honour, and immortality; thus exciting in us a just ambition, suited to our high origin, and worthy of our large capacities, which the little, misplaced, and perishable distinctions of this life would in vain attempt to satisfy.”
Indeed, it is the very purpose of true Christianity to set about correcting the waywardness of the human heart. All societies have their flaws, and every believer has theirs – the chequered past of Christian history states that all too clearly - yet to err from Christianity would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is in fact no other doctrine which so faithfully roots out and convicts the wayward than Christianity. 
To those who doubt just how effective Christianity has been in upturning the values of our society one need spend just a moment looking at the ancient world. A point reaffirmed recently by figures such as Tom Holland and Yuval Noah Harari.
The centrality of Christian doctrine
Yet some will insist that Christianity is but a force for evil, that we must remove its shackles and throw away its claims to our lives and societies. And they would be not the first, in Wilberforce’s day the era of revolutionary France was in full sway – a revolution which sought to remove the true doctrines of Christianity from any position of influence within its public sphere in the name of progress. Wilberforce looked upon such events with horror.
“In a neighbouring country, several of the same causes have been in action; and they have at length produced their full effect; manners corrupted; morals depraved, dissipation predominant, above all, Religion discredited, and infidelity, grown into repute and fashion, terminating in the public disavowal of every religious principle which had been used to attract the veneration of mankind: the representatives of a whole nation publicly witnessing, not only without horror, but without the smallest disapprobation, an open unqualified denial of the very existence of God; and at length, as a body, withdrawing their allegiance from the Majesty of Heaven”
Comparing such forces and ideas to a brood of vipers, Wilberforce argues progress is not to be found in the disavowal of Christianity but in its revival. To remove God and elevate another, be it a person or ideal, in His place is to sow discord. No matter the benefit of that initial value, it cannot hope to establish the society that we long for. In fact, it might just destabilise our own. 
On such a basis as this, Wilberforce contends for the genuine pursuit of Christian doctrine centred on its teachings concerning “the corruption of human nature the atonement of the Saviour, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit.” Without these central truths, Christianity is devoid of any power to transform society nor person. Furthermore, the ethics it proclaims become imbalanced and disconnected from their Creator’s intention.
“In the first place, then, there appears throughout, both in the principles and allowed conduct of the bulk of nominal Christians, a most inadequate idea of the guilt and evil of sin. We everywhere find reason to remark, that, Religion is suffered to dwindle away into a mere matter of police. Hence the guilt of actions is estimated, not by the proportion in which, according to Scripture, they are offensive to God, but by that in which they are injurious to society.”
Surely this is where we find ourselves now? A society riddled with inherited Christian ideals such as freedom, kindness, progress, and equality but utterly detached from the true meaning of these things. The moral framework is thus patchy and discordant. Behavioural norms and objective standards are derided, and reform is instead distributed through mechanical policy initiatives, a therapeutic educational establishment, and an increasing reliance on an ever-growing statute book.
“These men wish to reform, but they know neither the real nature of their disease, nor its true remedy. They are aware, indeed, that they must "cease to do and learn to do well;" that they must relinquish their habits of vice, and attend more or less to the duties of Religion; but, having no conception of the actual malignity of the disease under which they labour, or of the perfect cure which the Gospel has provided for it, or of the manner in which that cure is to be effected,… Not being able to raise their practice up to their standard of right, they lower their standard to their practice”
Is there a clearer summation of our present situation? Unable to change our individual and corporate behaviour adequately, we cease trying and in a nifty bit of spin embrace the issue in the vain hope that leaning into the problem will help transform our fortunes. Take for instance, the ‘no-fault’ divorce bill. Rather than addressing the problem of divorce and strengthening the marriage institution, the standard has been lowered to the state of existing practice.
Similar arguments could be made for any number of societal ills. Take as another example of loneliness amongst the over 75s. Rather than addressing the community and relational issues at the root of this problem, it is far easier to throw money at the matter – after all, television is the main source of company for 4 out of 10 people.
Many will rightly celebrate the UK’s Christian heritage as central to establishing many of the values that we do have yet wish to move on. Christianity may have brought us so far, but it needn’t be necessary in the hunt for further progress. Wilberforce contends such notions are folly. 
A public good to be defended
Have we perhaps been too shy to call out the flaws of the secular humanism we see around us? Too slow to engage with the philosophical and moral implications of such a theology? And too quick to engage on its own terms, participating without saying anything of distinction or note?
Ought we not boldly embrace the tenants of the Gospel and defend her virtue for the good of our neighbour? For it is the good of neighbour that such doctrines command us to go out into all the earth. The Gospel nowhere calls for Christian tyranny, but to follow in the footsteps of our Saviour King; weeping over the lost, tending to the sick and needy, and all the time embodying and representing the better world to come. It is not wrong for the Christian to seek power, but this power is always to be directed towards humble, sacrificial service.
To pursue or undertake political office is a worthy calling. Yet it is a calling not to be directed towards Christian domination, nor a platform for the moralising self-righteousness Jesus so aggressively denounces in the religious leaders of His day. Political office is rather a tool for public service and pursuit of the common good – all for the glory of our Lord.
Likewise, it is not simply what the Christian pursues that is of importance in Wilberforce’s eyes, but also the manner in which she pursues it. Highly striking given the culture wars of our day in which it is routine to slam the ‘wokerati’ or ‘basket of deplorables’, Wilberforce calls on believers to emulate the Apostle Paul and the examples of other saints.
“Imitate these blessed examples; so shall you vindicate the honour of your profession, and "put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:" so shall you obey those Divine injunctions of adorning the doctrine of Christ, and of "letting your light" shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Beat the world at its own best weapons. Let your love be more affectionate, your mildness less open to irritation, your diligence more laborious, your activity more wakeful and persevering.”
In the midst of such a heated political culture, the Christian would do well to remember Wilberforce’s words:
“The Christian is travelling on business through a strange country, in which he is commanded to execute his work with diligence, and pursue his course homeward with alacrity. The fruits which he sees by the way-side he gathers with caution; he drinks of the streams with moderation; he is thankful when the sun shines, and his way is pleasant; but if it be rough and rainy, he cares not much; he is but a traveller.”
The world is not all there is, it is part of a much bigger story – one that we are to be mindful of. It is this eternal, sacred, story that ensures we recognise blessings we have as a gift from God and the darkness of this world as the night before the light of the morning star.
It is in this spirit that those who have been redeemed remember our chief end to praise God in all that we do, whatever that may be, and this no less applies to the political realm than that of education, science, art, or even ministry.
“Let it be remembered, that the grand characteristic mark of the true Christian, which has been insisted on, is his desiring to please God in all his thoughts, and words, and actions', to take the revealed word to be the rule of his belief and practice', to "let his light shine before men-" and in all things to adorn the doctrine which he professes. No calling is proscribed, no pursuit is forbidden, no science or art is prohibited, no pleasure is disallowed, provided it be such as can be reconciled with this principle.”
Resultantly, as we proceed forth, let us seize Wilberforce’s torch, keep the banner flying and defend the public good that is our faith.
 https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/nhs-delivery-and-workforce/pressures/nhs-backlog-data-analysis //https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/economicoutputandproductivity/output/articles/ukeconomylatest/2021-01-25 //https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5802/cmselect/cmpubacc/643/report.html.
 Why we get the wrong politicians by Isabelle Hardman p.75.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p. 297.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.275.
 Romans 8:3a.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, pp.170-171.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, pp.312-313.
 To explore this idea further read Tom Holland’s Dominion or Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.301.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.325.
 See for example, William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.62.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.249.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.232.
 See Glen Scrivener’s The Air We Breathe for a greater exploration of these ideas.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, pp.250-251.
 TV Licences for Over-75s, Parliamentary Debate, 8th May 2019, https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-05-08/debates/6FE9E590-B299-471A-BAAD-A50946D5841D/TVLicencesForOver-75s.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.269.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, pp.168-169.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.170.
 See former Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s comments, https://news.sky.com/story/home-secretary-suella-braverman-blames-protest-disruption-on-tofu-eating-wokerati-12724058 or those of Hilary Clinton, https://time.com/4486502/hillary-clinton-basket-of-deplorables-transcript/.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.208.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, pp.234-235.
 William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, p.304.