Jonathan Aitken: Preacher Maggie

Roundup: Talking About History

Jonathan Aitken, The American Spectator's High Spirits columnist, is most recently author of John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Crossway Books). His biographies include Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed (Doubleday) and Nixon: A Life, now available in a new paperback edition (Regnery).

Thanks to Meryl Streep and her movie The Iron Lady there is a renewed surge of interest in the life and times of Margaret Thatcher. Whatever one thinks of this biopic (Streep superb, storyline superficial, is the verdict of your High Spirits movie critic), there is one regrettable omission. There is not a single mention or scene highlighting one of the most important influences on Margaret Thatcher -- her faith.
As a recently commissioned Thatcher biographer, I have been digging into this aspect of the Iron Lady with increasing fascination. Her faith journey, like her life, began in the English provincial town of Grantham. Her father, Alfred Roberts, was the owner of two grocery stores, but at the time of Margaret's birth he was much better known as a local preacher.
Under her father's tutelage, the young Margaret Roberts was brought up as a Wesleyan Methodist, attending church four times on a Sunday. Understandably she found this "too much of a good thing" and kicked against such excessive piety. But she was an admirer of preaching that had "intellectual substance." Her father's sermons fell into this category, as is clear from his handwritten notes for those of them that survive in the Thatcher archives at Churchill College, Cambridge.
Alfred Roberts was no Bible-bashing evangelical. His theology was full of surprises. He rejected fundamentalism. He was liberal in doctrine and ecumenical in reaching out across denominational boundaries. One of his key themes was the link between personal responsibility and spiritual dedication. What he preached, his daughter later practiced. "You must yourself believe intensely and with total conviction if you are to persuade others to believe," were his words from a Grantham pulpit. They became her credo as a conviction politician...

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