So, after failing to secure the leadership of the Conservative Party earlier this summer, Rishi Sunak is now the UK’s 57th Prime Minister. It is a remarkable turnaround. As my colleague Peter argued last week, Ms Truss could not govern. She had lost the support of her party and the entire way the British parliamentary system works is that the PM must carry a majority in the House of Commons. Following the disgraceful events of last Wednesday’s vote, it was clear that was no longer the case.
As ever with a new leader, our first action as followers of Jesus should be to pray for the leader God has ultimately given us. We are explicitly commanded to pray for those over us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2. Fascinatingly, the ultimate reason Paul commands us to do so is to do with salvation. We pray that we might be able to live godly, peaceful lives so we can live ‘Christianly’ which is good because God wants everyone to be saved.
In observing how Christians have responded to Mr Sunak’s appointment, I’ve found it disturbing to see so many jump on the fact he’s a Hindu. Some seem to think this means his appointment is God’s judgement on us as a nation.
Let me say three things in response.
Firstly, we recognise that it is a tragedy whenever anyone does not believe in Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation. There is, as the Apostle Peter expresses it in Acts 4:12, no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved. To live life not trusting in Jesus is the greatest tragedy of all. In that sense, the fact Mr Sunak is a Hindu is a problem. Just as it’s a problem for anyone, regardless of their faith who doesn’t love the God of the Bible with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength as we’re commanded.
But secondly, addressing specifically the concerns of Christians about the fact he’s Hindu, I suppose my question would be: what’s the difference between that and all our recent prime ministers who only say they believe in God, without the evidence to back it up? Arguably, there is little real difference. Some of our recent prime ministers, with a few notable exceptions, have been clear that they are more ‘cultural Christians’ than genuine, born-again believers: Liz Truss didn't even claim to be a Christian, merely that she was a 'friend of Christianity'. According to the Bible, there is no distinction between them and Mr Sunak.
In fact, while some former prime ministers were happy to say they believed in God, it’s impossible to know for certain who truly belonged to the Lord. And it is the Lord who judges the hearts of all, not us. The fact Mr Sunak is a Hindu does not stop him from being able to make wise and right decisions. It also doesn’t stop him from making poor decisions either.
We must remember the doctrine of God’s common grace. This is the idea that God, who is eternally gracious and kind to all He has made, gives good gifts to all human beings, even those who do not worship and honour Him. The key issue is Mr Sunak’s competence. As has been argued elsewhere, better a competent PM who who openly doesn't believe in God, than an incompetent, nominal, cultural Christian!
Thirdly, on religious liberty grounds, it might be beneficial to have a Prime Minister who understands that faith cannot ever be wholly private. It remains to be seen if he keeps Fiona Bruce (an evangelical Christian MP) as Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief. I suspect he will. Coming from a religious minority group, it’s reasonable to assume that Mr Sunak will know something of the importance of respecting the rights of people to worship according to their conscience. Given that we, as evangelical Christians, (those who believe the Bible and in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour), are also a religious minority now, it’s entirely possible Mr Sunak’s appointment will help, rather than hinder.
Finally, we should remember that the hearts of all rulers are ultimately in God’s hands. Throughout history, He has shown His power and might to use those who don’t believe in Him to accomplish His purpose. Think of Isaiah 45 and King Cyrus who was raised up to free God’s people from capacity in Babylon! Cyrus was no friend of the living God but that didn’t stop him being a means of blessing to God’s people!
From the very beginning of the New Testament Church, Christians were used to living under rulers who did not share their beliefs. Many were actively hostile to Christianity (especially Nero!). Yet the Apostle Peter, writing when Nero was on the throne, still commanded God’s people to honour the emperor.
Mr Sunak, like all of us, is an image-bearer of God. Deep down, he knows there is a God who is powerful and true and eternal, but as we all did at one time, he is supressing that truth (Romans 1:18-20). Let’s pray that the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ would shine into His heart and mind (2 Corinthians 4:6).