K.V. Turley writes from London.
Might Britain’s new prime minister, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, better known as Boris Johnson, have been a Catholic?
While discussing the new PM’s religious views on a podcast for The Spectator — a publication of which Johnson was once editor — Damien Thompson noted Johnson’s mother, Charlotte Fawcett, is, or was, Catholic, and that her son Boris was duly baptized into his mother’s religion, with his godmother Lady Rachel Billington, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Longford, both devout Catholic converts.
However, that is where Boris’ Catholicism appears to have ended. While at Eton, one of England’s top private schools, Johnson was confirmed in the Anglican Communion. In terms of religious belief, what he actually believes is hard to tell. In 2015, he likened his Christian belief to a radio station signal that comes and goes. Johnson has said that it would be “pretentious” to suggest he was a “serious practicing Christian,” but that he “thinks about religion a lot.”
Nevertheless, alongside many classical allusions with which he peppers his speeches — he read Classics at Oxford University — Johnson has been known to lob biblical references into his political pronouncements. For example, during a debate on Brexit, he called upon then Prime Minister Theresa May to “channel Moses” and tell the European Union to “let my people go.”
In terms of Johnson’s voting record as a member of parliament, there is little in it that would evidence firmly held Christian beliefs having influenced his voting. He is pro-abortion, and vocal in his support for same-sex “marriage.” He advocated changes to the law to allow euthanasia. He describes himself as a “liberal conservative” — economically conservative, socially liberal.
In this regard, Johnson is little different from the woman who has just left No.10. Theresa May, however, was a devout Anglican. Her father was an Anglo-Catholic Anglican clergyman with a devotion to the Little Flower. Hence the rather unusual name for an English non-Catholic: “Theresa.”
Accompanied by her husband, May attends a weekly church service whenever possible. She seemed unapologetic about that aspect of her Christian faith. However, at the same time, for many Christians there appeared little evidence of her Christianity having any bearing on certain key moral issues. Like Johnson, she is pro-abortion, vocal in her support for same-sex “marriage,” and would also describe herself as a “liberal conservative.” It was her government that refused political asylum to Asia Bibi, the Christian woman prosecuted for blasphemy in Pakistan.
The last practicing “Catholic” in No.10 was Tony Blair. Blair, an Anglican, was married to, Cheri Booth, a Catholic. All the Blair children were sent to Catholic schools. In fact, while Prime Minister, Blair went to Mass each Sunday with his family. But it was not until he left office that he converted to Catholicism. Since then, however, he has given mixed messages about the Church, at one point saying that the Catholic Church needed to “evolve” on issues of sexual morality.
In Great Britain, religion remains off limits for many when it comes to politics. Those who have strong religious views, such as the Catholic Jacob Rees-Mogg (Conservative) and Ann Widdecombe (Brexit Party) are viewed with some degree of suspicion. Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, and a devout Christian, resigned as party leader, hounded out of his post on account of his religious beliefs. The geographical area of the United Kingdom most identified with churchgoing is, of course, Northern Ireland. There, however, the sectarian and divisive nature of its politics is deemed proof by many across the Irish Sea that politics and religion do not mix.
In televised debates, during his recent bid to become Conservative party leader, and so also Prime Minister, Johnson’s only reference to religion was to his great-grandfather, who was a Turkish Muslim. If one adds in his Jewish forebears, the New York City-born Johnson has a religious heritage that is as cosmopolitan as the man himself.
That said — Catholic, Muslim, Jewish — it is unlikely that Johnson will be mixing anything religious into his forthcoming political agenda, which is dominated by one issue: Brexit. On that score, perhaps it was a good omen that he took office as Prime Minister on July 23, the feast of St. Bridget of Sweden, Patron of Europe, because in regard to the U.K.’s ongoing debates on Europe, Boris Johnson is going to need all the help — and prayers — he can get.