Why is Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, not more strident on the subject of religion and sexuality? The Labour MP has spoken in the House of Commons about his dismay at the Church of England’s feet-dragging over gay marriage. Yet in an interview with Theos think tank, ahead of the publication of his memoir, Streeting resisted denouncing the homophobes holding back the Church.
Instead, Streeting was measured, and rather understated. Unlike many gay Christians, he didn’t sound evangelical about the reformist cause, but admitted that it was a profoundly difficult issue, on which people disagree in good faith. I suppose the diplomatic pragmatism of the politician is a factor in this approach, but that doesn’t discredit it.
Though he spoke of his coming out as a huge liberation, ‘as if the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders’, his tone was thoughtful rather than simplistic. Some gay Christians give the impression that this para-spiritual triumph over adversity makes their faith more dramatic and authentic. But Streeting went the other way, admitting that it was a source of complexity:
‘I’m still working through this, this is not easy. But all of who are Christian would say that your relationship with God is meant to be difficult.’
In short, he sounds like a good liberal Anglican. A few decades ago that wasn’t worth remarking on, but nowadays a liberal Anglican in public life is a rare and exotic creature. He is a good advertisement for the species – earnest, nuanced, good-humoured, unashamed of his faith, but also unashamed of his liberalism. And he is more emotionally intelligent, and capable of vulnerability, than Anglican politicians of a previous generation. Streeting says that faith for him is partly about prayer, ‘sharing your anxieties and wishes in the privacy of that relationship’.