Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Sermon on the Mound’

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ONE of the defining moments of the late Thatcher era was when she delivered her “Sermon on the Mound” to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh on 21 May, 1988.

The event was partly her attempt to justify her policies to a part of the UK that had mostly rejected them, but also to give a broader philosophical underpinning to what she had tried to achieve in office at a time when her grip on power was loosening.

The speech was heard by members of the Kirk in stony silence, as she gave theological justification for a philosophy of individualism against that of society. She argued that “Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform” and she quoted St Paul by saying: “If a man will not work he shall not eat.”

At the time there were around two and a half million people unemployed, with some areas in Scotland ravaged by the collapse of traditional industries such as coal mining and shipbuilding.

She also used the speech to argue for her economic view that wealth making was good for society as opposed to redistribution of wealth.

She said: “The tenth commandment – thou shalt not covet – recognises that making money and owning things could become selfish activities.

“But it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but love of money for its own sake. The spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one does with the wealth.”

She also chided her hosts for their involvement in political campaigns against her. She noted: “We parliamentarians can legislate for the rule of law. You, the Church, can teach the life of faith.”

Afterwards, the then moderator, the Rt Rev James Whyte, politely handed her copies of the church’s reports on homelessness and the welfare system criticising her policies and reforms.

The speech became known as the Sermon on the Mound, after Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.