Interview by Ben Evans and Dan Wilton, transcript by Dan Wilton.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself for our readers?
I’m Nola Leach; I’m the chief executive of Care, a Christian organisation working in the public square to bring Christian influence. My background is actually education and health service: I never would have imagined that I’d be doing what I’m doing now, but God has plans for us which are very exciting!
Can you tell us a bit about Care?
Care is a Christian organisation that’s been in existence for about 40 years. It grew out of a movement of Christians across the county, in the early 70s, as a reaction to a lot of the legislation that was going through parliament that was very liberal and was changing society. It was a movement of Christians called the Nationwide Festival of Light, where Christians said “actually we need to stand up and be counted; we need to work for the good of society”. It culminated in a big rally in Trafalgar Square and so on (it was the era of marches and rallies). From that came the vision that actually, if you were going to impact the laws of our land, you needed really good quality research and you needed to be building relationships with MPs. Care came into existence, in a very small way, to do that.
Over the years it’s grown considerably but that still remains at the heart of what we do: to try and influence policy, to work for the good of society, to try and bring God’s values into society, but also to try and equip Christians to engage to make a difference. Over the years it has grown so that it’s not just about the policy work. Very, very early on, it was felt that if you were lobbying on something–it happened at that stage to be the abortion laws–you needed to have an alternative: you needed to have some sort of caring initiative, which cared for people facing crises. There’s always been that dual element in what we do. We’ve been involved in education over the years, in terms of providing resources for school governors, and we’ve been involved in fostering work. One of the most successful things that we did over the years, in a caring way, was a programme we called “The Homes Programme”, where Christians took people in need into their homes for short breaks. It was absolutely transformational, it was amazing.
Now, I think it’s true to say that our main focus again is the policy side, working alongside those who are working on the ground (there are now all sorts of people with expertise working on the ground) to give them teeth, really, and to influence what happens.
What affects how strongly Care works in a particular area?
I think running through everything we do is the idea of human dignity, but human dignity as individuals made in the image of God. Human dignity in that sense needs to be protected and worked with. We’ve always had at our heart issues of marriage and the family, beginning of life and end of life issues. Also, other issues which have impinged upon that dignity of life, where perhaps people have been degraded, or been used as a commodity– hence the involvement in recent years in human trafficking. Similarly, issues around the protection of children and young people online: the whole pornography issue and the sexualisation of society. They’re the main things that are the core of what we do and I suppose are in our DNA. You can’t do everything and there are other people doing really good things in other areas. We wouldn’t be, for example, working particularly in areas of poverty, because there are Christian organisations and other organisations that are doing it. We would get behind them, but that’s not our raison d’être, although that’s not saying that we don’t think they’re important.
We’re also involved in equipping Christians to make a difference, such as in our leadership programme. I’ll tell you a story: in the late 70s we suffered a whole series of defeats in Westminster. Bills that we were fighting: we lost, we lost, we lost. Our chairman was in the House of Commons after one disastrous defeat and a politician–they were really depressed–turned to him and said that “until you populate this house with Christians, nothing will change”. They went away and the seed of an idea was born, that what if we could take really able young people who had just graduated from university, give them training for a year with a Christian worldview, to help them see what if meant to go out with a Christian worldview into positions of influence. And the Leadership Programme was born. That’s the other strand of it, actually, of equipping and influencing society in that way. I’m very thrilled to say that has happened over the years. There are two MPs who were on the programme , we know of people in the diplomatic service, in the civil service, leading voluntary organisations etc. etc. It’s not just about being nice: it’s about what is a Biblical worldview, how are you going to engage with modern culture?
How do you determine what a biblical worldview is in fast-moving areas of ethics?
Obviously the Bible doesn’t tell us how to vote, or what the Health Service should look like: at that simplistic level it doesn’t. I think they are certain undeniable central truths about the nature about what it is to be human and I think they’re a benchmark for what we do. I think there are big challenges in going ahead as science develops and what is a biblical worldview of this particular development or that particular development. If it looks as if it’s good, where do you draw the line? I think it comes back to the fundamental question of what it means to be human, as someone made in the image of God.
How do you answer those people who would say you are imposing a Christian worldview on a society that is increasingly secular?
It’s not about imposing. I think that if we look at Scripture and think about a biblical worldview, we see that God’s people were told to work for the good of society. Surprise, surprise, what is God’s agenda is actually good for society. It’s not being a “killjoy”. It’s those areas where we’re challenging those things that aren’t for the good of society. Other people are saying that those things aren’t for the good of society, so it’s not just Christians saying it. There will be occasions where perhaps you will have to challenge something because you feel it is against God’s law; the important thing then is how you do it and the language you use. I think we don’t have a right to impose: it’s actually quite a derogatory thing to impose. Of course, the pendulum can go far the other way, as it does today, with individualisation (“it’s my choice and nothing else matters”), but actually we need to respect people. It is working for the good of society I think, doing those things which bring wholeness and benefit.
When you engage with other religions in the political sphere, how do you maintain Care’s commitment to religious liberty?
I think you have to earn a credibility, and I think one the advantages we have is that we’re been in existence for a long time. So we have earned that credibility. I think you have to build relationships with people; if you think about it, no good friendship comes from someone attacking someone else to begin with. You have to build relationships. I can honestly say, that in all my dealings with politicians of varying views, there’s only been one occasion when I had no point of contact at all, where the person was so diametrically opposed to where we were coming from. And that may happen but usually, if you’ve built relationships, if you’ve earned credibility, there can be a mutual respect of listening to each other. It’s not necessarily easy and I think the temptation with that is–if you have a relationship–to dilute the Christian element if you have to challenge, but then again, as I said before, it’s how you challenge.
How would you suggest that the average Christian in the pews get involved with the sort of work that you’re doing?
There’s a very, very simple way and it’s what I’ve just said: it’s building relationships. If you look at Christian community, they care; they love because Christ loved us. If you care, sometimes there comes a point where you have to speak out and that means engagement. I think for–I don’t like the phrase–the “ordinary Christian in the pew”, they might not see themselves as political. But we’re called to work for the good of society and we’re called to care. Therefore we can all pray, so it’s about being informed so that we can pray intelligently, and we can help people to do that. Christians can get to know what’s going on in the local community–it may be praying for your local school–but praying intelligently means finding out what’s going on and building relationships with people. It’s those sorts of things: getting to know the local councillors, inviting MPs to the church…There’s all sorts of things that people can do, and I think it’s our duty to so it, actually.
To what extent should leaders of Churches be getting involved in politics? Should anything political be coming out of our pulpits?
Obviously the primary duty of the church is to evangelise, but that isn’t in a vacuum. We obviously care about people. I think the church leader–dare I say it–the good church leader (and there are many, many examples) cares for their congregation and their community. As I said before, in doing that there will times in which they will have to address issues that perhaps aren’t going so well. Or, really importantly, you have to commend people who are doing things well. It’s building relationship again, it’s stepping stones to people: you don’t know the effect on them. There’s a phrase which says that “every contact leaves a trace”. I think that for any church leader, any individual Christian, will be concerned how they are being salt and light, how they are being a fragrance for Christ in society? In doing that, it may be that you actually engage.
I don’t think that it’s the role of a church leader to, if they’re a member of the Conservative party, stand up and say that everyone’s got to vote Conservative. That’s certainly not their role! But the whole engagement idea is part of it. Right from the the beginning of Scripture we’re called to work with God and for him, for the good of his world, and that involves being involved in whatever life there is in the community.
You spoke at the Christian CEOs Conference recently: what place do business leaders have in the work of Care?
I think that we wouldn’t usually work directly with them, but the whole essence of what we do is to encourage, support, enable Christians to be active for God where they are, living out their faith. I said before about being “nice”; I think we have this misguided opinion that being a Christian in the world is means just being nice. It doesn’t. The other thing that really annoys me is the message being proclaimed that–and I’m caricaturing now–if you’re really on fire for God you’re going to go to LST and you’re going to go into Church leadership, or if you’re really really good, you go overseas. I would say you go where God’s calling you to go: one isn’t higher than the other. And boy, don’t we need Christian business leaders, doing it differently?
What should our response be when legal changes don’t go the way we see Scripture advocating?
I think our initial response is to pray. It’s always been the situation: the Christian Church has always been in the minority, if you look back to the early Church and the growth of the Church under persecution. We have always been the minority. I think sometimes it’s very easy, if something goes wrong now, to get into that persecution mentality. “Oh Christians are being got at” and all that. Yes, there are worrying signs in society certainly, but there are lots of good signs as well. I think if things go against us, it can be depressing, but I think we have to remember that our faith says that Jesus is Lord. We’re just called to be faithful, we’re not necessarily called to be successful. I think that’s the thing that you really hold on to and pray. In practical terms, it’s having those around you who can support you and help you. It can be depressing at times, but they are also encouragements.
Is it possible to affirm the Lordship of Christ in a unity of Church and state?
Yes I think it is, but in upholding the state, we’re not talking about a theocracy. Politics isn’t the answer to everything: politics is politics. There is a difference and I think there’s a danger–a very real danger–in saying to make government what it isn’t. It’s not a theocracy. The role of government is to protect society and to form laws that are for the good of society. We serve a higher authority, but God has always used men who know him, and men who don’t. You work at it in that way I think.
Now if you’re asking me whether I think there should be a state church, we won’t go there, but I think it’s important that the problems won’t be politics. It has its role, but it’s a limited role.
Finally, as an alumnus, what advice do you have for LST students?
I would say seize every opportunity that comes your way. I would say that God’s plan for our lives is a bit like a jigsaw and you may well go out of LST not go into the place where God is going to take you, eventually. But each part has its part to play, seize that and make the most of that. I would never, ever, when I left LBC (as it was then) have envisioned that I’d be Chief Executive of a major Christian organisation in the country. It was never on my radar at all. So it’s the little things and making the most of them. In the right way–and I can say this in hindsight, please forgive me–I think when you’re young it’s harder, but be who you are in Christ. Not to try and be somebody else. I think the temptation is that we try and model ourselves on somebody else we see. I don’t mean by that that we don’t take the good bits from somebody, but we’re all individuals and there’s a different route for each of us. We’re all different and we have to be who God’s intended us to be and to find that under him.