In the final days of the last decade we were inundated with retrospectives, from newspapers deciding on the best films of the decade to reviewing the tumults of the political landscape.

Radio call ins reflected on all that had happened and all that had changed. You may have seen the clip from Tomorrow’s World in 1989 speculating on what the home of 2020 would be like. Some aspects were remarkably prescient, the suggestion that you would be able to walk into a room and say what music you wanted, and it would play, others less so – the idea that electricity would be in the walls of buildings and sockets would be obsolete doesn’t look like coming to fruition anytime soon. 

Similarly, as the new decade begins it’s interesting to think what might be different by the time 2030 rolls around. Will we have flying cars, will the hoverboard ever actually make fiction into reality, and what will our politics look like? Will our economy have thrived or stagnated? The assumption now is that Brexit will happen, but what will dominate the political agenda for the next decade? 

The moral historian Gertrude Himmelfarb died on 30 December, aged 97. She failed to see the new decade in but during her life saw far more than many others. In an article remembering her life and work, political and cultural commentator David Brooks commented that: Economists measure economic change and journalists describe political change, but who captures moral change? Who captures the shifts in manners, values, and mores, how each era defines what is admirable and what is disgraceful?” He goes on to note that Himmelfarb made this her central concern. 


In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, and I was too young to really notice – although I did pay attention to the Conservative Party leadership election the following year (I was an odd six year old). A generation of young people are now entering adulthood, born after the terrorist attacks known as 9/11, and have only ever lived with the ramifications of this grave tragedy. The 1990s were the decade after the Cold War and the noughties the era of the war on terror. The 2010s don’t even get an easy-to-roll-off-the-tongue name, and it’s not yet clear how they will be assessed by historians in generations to come.

What we have witnessed in recent years in politics, communications and leadership across society is a crisis of truth, trust and authority. Post-truth and fake news have prospered and there doesn’t seem to be any easy way out of this cul-de-sac. It strikes me that shifts in civic virtue and our collective moral imagination have occurred more deeply this past decade than even our news saturated culture realises. 

Brooks goes on to say: Himmelfarb didn’t fear immorality so much as demoralisation, the sense that our age has lost a moral vocabulary and with it the ability to think subtly about moral matters. A great deal, she wrote, is lost when a society stops aiming for civic virtue and is content to aim merely for civility.”

This is perhaps the revelation of what is missing in our time amid all the noise of our current political moment and its calls for good disagreement and civility.

"Calls for civility are the façade behind which moral imagination dissolves."

As this decade begins, more than anything else, more than an economic boom or vibrant political leadership, we need prophetic imagination for the redemption of all things. No part of our society is exempt from this need. We need it locally in communities, nationally in our government and public institutions, and globally in our culture that isn’t contained by borders.

We need moral leadership for our nation, and for the nations of our world. We do not know what the 2020s will hold, but we can be committed to standing up for what we believe in throughout these years. We do not know all that will pass, but we do know that God remains faithful. At the start of this decade let us commit to being as evangelical about the good news of Christ as vegangelicals are about their plant based diet!

And as one vegan heads to court to argue for protection for his beliefs, let us reflect whether those looking at us would consider our faith to be serious and cogent, to be genuinely held and affecting a substantial aspect of life. Is our faith seen to be more than an opinion or view point anchored only in what we currently know, or rooted in the sure and eternal hope of Christ who triumphed over death? 

Himmelfarb, in her seminal essay, From Clapham to Bloomsbury, charted the descent of morals from the Clapham Sect to the Bloomsbury Group – many of the key individuals direct descendants of the former: Where Clapham had inspired a moral and spiritual reformation, Bloomsbury sought to effect a moral and spiritual liberation – a liberation from Clapham itself and from those vestiges of Evangelicalism and Victorianism that still persisted in the early 20th century.”

The echoes of the Bloomsbury Group are still readily apparent at the dawn of this decade, but as we look forward, let’s also look back. We can learn the lessons of how a nation’s spiritual temperature can change, and let’s pray and believe that what happened before can happen again. The God who was and is and will be, is with us and goes before us.