On 7 November 2020, when British Orthodox rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks passed away, our society not only lost one of its greatest intellectuals, we also lost one of the greatest advocates for the voice and value of religion in public life.

A philosopher, theologian, author and politician, Lord Sacks of Aldgate, London, served as Chief Rabbi for the Jewish community in the UK from 1991 to 2013. Knighted by the Queen in 2005, he became a Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords in 2009.

Born in London, Lord Sacks attended a Christian school before heading to Cambridge to study Moral Philosophy under the tutelage of Sir Isaiah Berlin, a Latvian-born British social and political theorist. When Berlin questioned Sacks about his conversion from atheism to Orthodox Judaism, Sacks was reputed to have replied: Please don’t be concerned. Just see me as a lapsed heretic.” This warmth and humour would become characteristic of Sacks’ contributions to public discourse in the following decades. 

An eloquent and gracious public speaker about the vital role of religion in our culture, he was a keynote speaker at the Evangelical Alliance annual lecture in 2007. With his love of scripture, he was always delighted to discuss the cultural impact of the Bible with evangelical leaders and theologians. 

A prodigious writer, Sacks was the author of more than 30 books. His 1997 book The Politics of Hope, which brings a lucidity and urgency to religious political engagement, had a profound effect upon my own journey into parliament and politics as an evangelical Christian. 

Other works included: Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence; The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning; and perhaps most prescient for today’s public square so divided by identity politics, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations.

It was fitting that his final work is entitled Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (2020), because, above all things, Sacks was a moral voice. As this excerpt shows, more than most he understood that our postmodern aversion to moral discourse will come with a terrible cost:

Morality is essential to freedom. That is what John Locke meant when he contrasted liberty, the freedom to do what we ought, with licence, the freedom to do what we want… It is what George Washington meant when he said, Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.’ And Benjamin Franklin when he said, Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.’ Or Thomas Jefferson when he said, A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.’ Lose morality, and you will eventually lose liberty.”[i]

In my own writing, speaking and advocating, I’ve been particularly influenced by Sacks’ analysis of our secularistic western society as experiencing cultural climate change’ – a wholesale shift away from a Judaeo-Christian values to the point that we are suffering from arteriosclerosis of culture – a civilisation grown old.”[ii] His analysis that this situation is completely unsustainable and that we need to relearn the moral disciplines of freedom” is an urgent call to get back to the God of the Bible. 

In 2016, Sacks was awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize in recognition of his exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension”. Although he never professed faith in Christ (I did thank God for him and prayed for him over the years), described by Prince Charles as a light unto this nation”, it could be said that he was a greater advocate and defender of Christian values than most Christian bishops and leaders have been. 

Sacks was a true public leader: wise, humble and courageous. I am thankful for his immense contribution to our society, especially his strong advocacy for marriage, family life and the indispensable role of faith in the life of our country. I am also thankful that he leaves a rich legacy of literature, but I will miss him. He was a friend of evangelical Christians.


[i] Sacks, J (2020) Morality – Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, London, Hodder & Stoughton

[ii]Cultural Climate Change’ by Jonathan Sacks, Standpoint, September 2017: http://​www​.stand​point​mag​.co​.uk/​t​e​,​x​t​-​s​e​p​t​e​m​b​e​r​-​2017​-​j​o​n​a​t​h​a​n​-​s​a​c​k​s​-​c​u​l​t​u​r​a​l​-​c​l​i​m​a​t​e​-​c​hange