Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom… Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us… Establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.
(Psalm 90:12, 15, 17)
Michael Farmer is the co-founder of one of the world’s largest metal hedge funds, a member of the House of Lords, a wholehearted advocate for family policy reform—and a committed Christian.
Currently, he is also one of the driving forces behind the ‘Strengthening Families Manifesto’, a series of 19 policy recommendations to combat the high levels of family breakdown in the UK. We recently met to discuss his personal testimony, faith in the business and political worlds and the importance of family policy.
Since being elevated to the peerage in 2014, Lord Farmer has been using his platform to highlight the connection between strong families and human flourishing—a conviction that is formed, in part, by his own experiences. The child of two alcoholics, he describes how his early years were marked by ‘neglect, shame and poverty.’ Dealing with family bereavement and bankruptcy, he witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of family breakdown.
‘As a young man, my motto was “I am a rock, I am an island”—I felt that you could only rely on yourself.’
It was only as an adult, aged 35, that he became a Christian. In the middle of his career in the city as a metals trader, several changes in circumstances caused a time of reflection on some big questions in his life.
‘At that time, almost out of superstition, I used to kneel down and say the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime. One night, I woke up and heard in a still, small voice my name: “Michael”. I replied, “Yes Lord”, and in front of my eyes was Jesus Christ as the Son of God. I knew that this changed everything—the whole meaning of everything.’
Over the next 30 years, growing as a Christian and spending time studying the Bible shaped Lord Farmer’s worldview for both business ethics and political engagement. Co-founder of Red Kite, one of the world’s largest metal hedge funds, he speaks of the need for Christian integrity in today’s financial sector.
‘The city has an old expression: “My word is my bond.” However, it seems to me that as Christian faith has diminished in our society, the law of the land has had to increase in order to compensate for the lack of Christian ethics, where companies and banks are constantly testing the legal limits. However, as a Christian you learn that the Lord came “to serve and not to be served.” You must take a different approach and instead ask yourself, what service am I giving? Pursue honest dealing, even if it costs you financially.’
From 2011, Lord Farmer spent four years serving as the Conservative Party Treasurer, during which time he was appointed to the House of Lords.
‘I wasn’t expecting it. I knew it was a big deal, but I really wanted to know what it meant as a Christian. Ultimately, it was the realisation that the peerage provided a platform to stand up and speak that provided a real “wow” moment.
‘Entering the House of Lords as a metal trader was quite daunting, because there’s a lot of protocol. However, one slowly grows in admiration for the House, both for the quality of work it does in scrutinising, revising and amending legislation coming up from the Commons, and for the overall desire for the common good, in spite of different party positions. Most significantly, it’s been a forum for me to get involved in family work as a Christian.’
Lord Farmer has worked closely with the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in his public career, building on the increasing recognition of the problems of family breakdown highlighted by the research of CSJ, Relationships Foundation, Jubilee Centre and others.
‘More and more research shows that committed relationships produce more mentally rounded people who can benefit society and create wealth—rather than becoming consumers of welfare as a result of broken relationships.’
Lord Farmer’s most recent initiative, the ‘Strengthening Families Manifesto’, is backed by almost 60 Conservative MPs and Peers. Through it, he asks the current government to assess the impact of new policies on families (citing the example of welfare policies that make it more beneficial for couples to live apart), as well as coordinating family services and assigning the Families brief to a cabinet-level minister.
‘Although government is focused on the EU withdrawal bill, we’re highlighting these 19 recommendations as an answer to the need for strong family policy. Here’s something which is not about Brexit, but that is a concern across all levels of society.’
Reflecting on the challenges Christians face working in public life, Lord Farmer’s advice is always to be upfront about your faith and take encouragement from scripture.
‘There are always challenges to being a Christian in the world, since the gospel doesn’t fit with the spirit of the age, but one of my key verses is Psalm 90. The Psalm teaches us to number our days, but ends with a prayer for work for our hands, and gladness for our hearts—and I think that’s a great prayer: Lord give me Christian work to do, and give me gladness in my heart.’
This article first appeared in the July 2018 edition of our Engage News Magazine.