Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, died Monday at age of 87. Her death has brought to the spotlight both her life and political legacy as the “Iron Lady.”
But while her controversial policies and fiery one-liners are well-known, few people realize Thatcher rooted her sense of civic responsibility in her Christian faith. During a speech before the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1988, she outlined three distinctives for Christians involved in politics.
First, she said, Christians realize they have been given the right to choose between good and evil. Second, Christians recognize humans are made in God’s image and are responsible to use “power of thought and judgement” in making that choice. She also emphasized the renewing work of Christ for those who choose to accept Him. Third, she said Christians are inspired by Christ’s choice to freely die for our forgiveness of sins.
She referred to the Ten Commandments as well as the Old and New Testament as sources for, “a view of the universe, a proper attitude to work, and principles to shape economic and social life.”
She also urged believers to keep united the connection between faith and good works, and to be cautious of any social or cultural attempt to dissect good works from their Christian foundation. “Good works are not enough because it would be like trying to cut a flower from its root,” she said. “The flower would soon die because there would be nothing to revive it."
Thatcher acknowledged that Christians in politics might disagree about which policies are best. She urged respect and civility, but also warned that “any set of social and economic arrangement which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm.”
Raised in Grantham, in the eastern part of England, Thatcher was first introduced to Christ by her parents. “The Roberts household was a place of firm discipline, Christian nurture, and intellectual activity,” wrote Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her solid family upbringing would also affirm her belief that, “the family … is the heart of our society … the very nursery of civic virtue.”
Graeme Smith, from the Journal of Religious Ethics wrote in 2007 that Thatcher’s faith solidified her values of “thrift, hard work, care for the family and local neighbor, and charitable generosity” as well as, “her belief in the renewal of the national British Christian spirit; and her notion of morality as the opportunity for free choice.”
As prime minister, Thatcher revitalized Britain’s receding economy by privatizing state-run institutions, challenging the power of unions, and weaning the country away from its socialist and welfare-dependent traditions, inspired by the biblical teaching on labor-derived abundance. She continued to reform policy and strengthen Britain until resigning in 1990.
“Christians must not profess the Christian faith and go to church simply because we want social reforms and benefits for a better standard of behavior,” she said during her address in Scotland. “But because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom, and the supreme sacrifice of Christ.”