Speak truth unto power – by Phil Weston


Before entering ordained ministry I worked for nearly a decade as a Civil Servant at Her Majesty’s Treasury on Whitehall, serving under Chancellor Gordon Brown.  Like our Wives Group, Men’s Breakfasts and Alpha Launches here at Christ Church, the Treasury often invited guest speakers to come and address staff on a range of interesting topics. During my time there, some big names stopped by, including Princess Anne, Bob Geldof and numerous leading politicians, as well as our own Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones.

The most memorable visiting speaker I heard was Peter Hennessy. Professor Hennessy is a well-respected British historian, who gave us a fascinating talk about the relationships between Prime Ministers and Chancellors down the years: Thatcher and Lawson, Major and Lamont, Blair and Brown. Professor Hennessy gave lots of amusing and interesting anecdotes which unfortunately I can’t remember. But what I can remember are his final words to his audience. He said; “As civil servants, your primary responsibility is to ‘speak truth unto power’”.

As politically neutral public servants, our unique role under the British constitution was to speak the truth to powerful politicians. To tell them objective facts and offer impartial advice without fear or favour. To tell them not what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear. (At the Treasury that usually meant telling an ambitious politician that his latest big idea was just “too expensive” to implement!).

If speaking the truth in all circumstances is the duty of a Civil Servant, then how much more so for a Christian. We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), and in our services this Sunday we shall be thinking about our responsibility to speak up for Biblical truth and Christian values in all circumstances, however costly that might be.

Just over the road from the Treasury, on the front wall of Westminster Abbey, there is a line of statues dedicated to ten modern Christian martyrs. Individuals such as Dietrich Bonheoffer, Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero, who all paid the ultimate sacrifice for speaking out in Christ’s name. May God grant us similar courage to speak his truth – even when it hurts.