I like the fact that Theresa May is an Anglican, a good, solid, unashamed, unflashy Anglican, whose allegiance has not wavered since childhood. It reassures me. For the CofE is a place of pragmatic idealism, public service, profound humanism, good humour, self-criticism. Also, it’s just about the only place where class and racial divisions are routinely overcome.
But when she actually says anything about her faith, she doesn’t come across very well. She sounds nervous of saying the wrong thing, which is fair enough, as horrid bloggers are waiting to pick and sneer at her words. And (pick, sneer) she sounds a bit pinched and negative about her experience as a vicar’s daughter.
In her Sunday Times interview she said that the vicarage gave her a wide view of society – a rather dry sociological comment. More personally, she recounted that one Christmas Day her father was out all day due to an emergency, and that she couldn’t open her presents until the evening. In other words, it was deeply annoying living in a vicarage, a rude diminishment of one’s bourgeois rights, but one does one’s duty.
On its own this comment would not be worth picking up on. But she said something very similar on Desert Island Discs. Her father’s job meant that domestic privacy was often invaded, she said. ‘I have one memory for example of being in the kitchen and looking up the path to the back door where a whole group, a family, that had come to complain about an issue in the church and that’s it, just knock on the door and expected to see the vicar.’
Her complaint about the parishioners complaining sounds slightly ungracious. She wants to make the point that duty is often a burden. Fair enough: plenty of truth in that. But it makes her sound a bit of a moaner (and even a bit damaged, still sore at being neglected in favour of the parish). And it makes Christianity sound rather grim and joyless. As she retained her faith, this is surely not really her view of it.
Perhaps she has been badly advised to sound coldly dutiful if asked about religion. So maybe in her next interview she could remember to sound a bit gladder about her lifelong participation in the Church of England, one of the most humane and wholesome of human cultures, and often a source of fun and joy. Maybe, when it comes to her childhood privations, she could echo the magic words of Jesus: ‘the burden is light’.