In the BBC’s The Daily Politics broadcast on 22 May, presenter Jo Coburn asked the show’s guest for the day Jacob Rees-Mogg MP whether his well-known religious beliefs were “a problem.” Grace Dalton asks whether baiting Christian politicians about their beliefs on sexuality is now the “new normal.”
Marvellously Marmite Moggie was — again — on the BBC’s Daily Politics last week. The public love him or hate him, and so the media gleefully spreads him across our screens with the certainty of sparking interest. Jacob Rees-Mogg is deemed amusing for his personification of picture book poshness. Earlier this year, the Beano demanded that he cease and desist from impersonating Walter the Softy, enemy of the ever popular Dennis the Menace.
But his opinions render him an enigma to be examined endlessly. Examined because he is, in fact, a peculiar species — he’s a Catholic.
There are a smattering of self described Christians in Westminster, but mainstream media takes an interest almost exclusively when an opportunity occurs to feign superiority by looking down on them. On the Daily Politics last week, Mogg was first mocked for his persona, like a misfit child at school. Host Jo Coburn proceeded audaciously to demand that he declare his views on fellow parlimentarians — never mind the absurd foolishness of publicly taking sides between one’s colleagues. But discussion of competency was merely a segue — Coburn’s purpose was clearly to grill Mogg on his feelings about same sex marriage.
“I mean, let’s just sort of put that to one side for the moment, and look at Ruth Davidson whom we talked about at the beginning of the programme. […] She’s also somebody who is gay, engaged to be married, and pregnant. Do you have a problem with any of that?”
Jo Coburn, to Jacob Rees-Mogg, Daily Politics, 22 May 2018
Referring to leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson’s sexuality and pregnancy, Coburn asked, “Do you have a problem with any of that?”
“None of that at all,” Mogg replied, “it’s up to her how to lead her life.
“It’s a huge joy… it’s very exciting when people are bringing new life into the world.”
Mogg keenly complimented Davidson’s ability as a politician, endeavouring to separate views about Ruth Davidson as a person from views about the definition of marriage — but this is not an option in society today. Fundamental to the modern mindset is the doctrine that a person’s sexuality is a defining aspect of who they are. Coburn ignored Mogg’s compliments of Davidson’s work. Is it a problem, she asked, “that you hold those views about some of your colleagues?” presuming that his view of Ruth Davidson is determined by who she sleeps with. Throughout current culture, labels are attached to people regarding a part of their lives that doesn’t impact the public at all. Ruth Davidson’s sexual orientation is no part of the public service she undertakes — but it’s this that Coburn seeks Mogg’s statements on. She presses hard to elicit a controversial admission, repeatedly demanding that he fracture his relationship with his colleagues.
According to NatCen’s British Social Attitudes data, just 20 years ago, only 25% of the British public affirmed acceptance of same-sex relationships, after doubling in the decade prior. The figure stands today at 65%. Given that one third of the public is in agreement with Mogg on this matter, and given that Britain’s view is evidently unstable, surely it’s wrong that Coburn presumes with such certainty that support of gay marriage is objectively right and Mogg is objectively wrong? Within mere decades, Western morality has mutated almost beyond recognition. Though plenty of people were not in love with God, the Bible was accepted as the foundation of morality even by many who didn’t follow it. Whether something was right or wrong could often be agreed about be consulting Biblical teaching, though it was certainly wilfully misinterpreted at times. Now, we have no unifying standard for determining ethical quandaries. Consequently, disagreements such as those discussed in this interview, create a stalemate, in turn a road block to mutual progress on other matters.
Notably, Coburn uses negative language — Mogg is “against gay marriage” and “anti abortion” — those who hold these views describe themselves as proponents of traditional marriage and pro-life. Notable too, is that other politcians are not similarly interrogated.
Jeremy Corbyn, for example (who I more often agree with than I do Jacob Rees-Mogg) is against dairy products and anti meat, but his veganism is never what he’s interviewed about.
Crucially, Mogg does not put his energies into issues surrounding gay marriage and abortion. He campaigns against the EU, his efforts and influence are in matters relating to legislative bodies and economics, not proposing bills and raising awareness of these morals questions. But sex sells — the devastating truth that Coburn must bear is that absolute politics becomes dull eventually — at least to much of the viewing public, so she veers into topics that her guest in fact chooses not to impact.
Later in the programme (36’50”—45’50”), deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson MP rightly addresses Mogg’s seeming lack of concern for children disadvantaged by poverty or as refugees. Coburn cuts the conversation to give Swinson the last word on the matter, and I’m left wondering how Mogg would respond to Swinson’s valid concerns, and how many of the public will be left with the impression of Swinson as the hero against a villainous Mogg.
Immediately afterward, Coburn turns from Mogg to the audience to begin discussion on the newly elected Lord Mayor of Sheffield. He is a Muslim who — endearingly — has reached his esteemed position in spite of the tribulation of having been a child refugee. One cannot help but wonder how he’d have answered Coburn’s earlier questions — many times I’ve heard even non-Christian members of the public comment on the media’s tendency to interrogate Christians for their stance on issues for which followers of other faiths go unquestioned.
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”
2 Timothy 2:23
I, personally, am by no means a fan of Jacob Rees-Mogg; I was enraged to see him support for a campaign to cut off International Aid. And I desperately wish that, in this interview, he’d attempted to explain why he holds the views on same sex marriage and abortion that he does — that Christians follow the Bible’s teaching because God loves us beyond measure, and knows incomparably better than we do which life choices are truly best for us. But he does impressively well at rebuking Jo Coburn’s intolerance, whilst remaining perfectly calm and polite. As Christians, we too must resist attempts to drag us into futile arguments; as Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:23, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” Others will continually seek to portray Christians as laughable bigots — but God’s truth will prevail if we fix our eyes on Him.
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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.