Ministering to le gouvernement Français
French Evangelicals seek to be salt and light in the public sphere
Thierry Le Gall is the director of the parliamentary pastoral service of the Conseil National des Évangéliques de France (National Council of French Evangelicals). After a long career in corporate communication, God called Le Gall to the pastorate in Normandy and Brittany, and then to the political class in Paris. Inspired by his time spent in Washington, D.C., Bern, and Brussels, Le Gall has since 2016 ministered to hundreds of French politicians from every political party. His first book, Un avenir, une éspérance (A future, a hope), was released in February 2022. Le Gall and the NCFE published a voter’s guide ahead of April’s presidential election titled Elections 2022—Evangelical Convictions.
What is your role and how long have you been in this position? I am the Protestant evangelical chaplain to the French Parliament, which includes the National Assembly and the Senate. This year will mark six years since I’ve taken up that post.
How did God lead you to this ministry? After the tragic death of our 24-year-old son in 2011, my wife and I spent time in a spiritual retreat in order to grieve. Through that process, God revealed a new direction for us in a powerful and clear way: He told me to minister to French parliamentarians. I had had a long career in corporate communications before God called me to be a pastor, but besides voting, I had never had much involvement in the world of politics. It had never crossed my mind!
What’s a normal day for you? A normal day is spent meeting senators or deputies of the National Assembly for conversations, either in their offices over a cup of coffee or in a meeting room. I’m not a lobbyist, and they receive me as a pastor. First we talk about things of God, and I seek to encourage them in their faith, in their personal and family life. I also listen a lot because these are men and women under an enormous amount of pressure: political, social, nervous, and intellectual pressure.
Often there are subjects on which they would like the perspective of French evangelical Protestants, for example the law on secularism, the threat of Islam, education, ethics, end of life, the family, children, the environment. All those issues where biblically grounded Christians have convictions to share.
Do representatives seek you out or do you seek them out? Both. Sometimes representatives just want to meet with a pastor, and in those moments, there is nothing political in our meeting, just the desire to accompany them personally and spiritually. Other times I ask to meet with them when there is a subject important to evangelicals. For example, the anti-separatism law last year greatly concerned Christians because it directly affects the liberties of expression and religion and directly affects church planting in France.
From the beginning, the members of Parliament told me that in the name of domestic security we must accept the reduction of religious liberties in order to fight radical Islam. We [the CNEF] didn’t agree with that, of course, because radical Islam is not an Islam that is organized in legal institutions. That’s the realm of national information and law enforcement services. Relying on a change of law to get to an invisible enemy that doesn’t concern itself with legalities doesn’t seem like a good indicator for French democracy.
What role does that play in the current election cycle? People of faith—whether Jewish, Christians, Buddhists, or Muslims—were shocked and worried by the passage of this law because believers in France have now become suspect in the eyes of the law simply for their convictions and for practicing their religion. It’s not right to discriminate against all religions just because of one religious minority that poses a real problem and needs to be dealt with.
This political decision to impose more financial, legal, and administrative restrictions is deeply upsetting for believers of any religion. So yes, it impacts the elections to the extent that we have the impression to have become suspect in the eyes of the French authorities.
How has this situation changed the view of politics for evangelical French Christians? There is a growing political awareness among French evangelical Protestants. For a long time among Christians there was a radical separation between the secular and spiritual worlds and apathy towards politics. For many years, evangelicals were taught in their churches to stay away from politics. Only in the last 15 years have we seen a younger generation start to take interest in political engagement for the common good.
I’ve noticed that especially at the city and local levels, more and more Christians from all social ranks are participating in city councils with a single goal: To improve the daily lot of the French and serve the common good. And that idea of working for the common good through politics is a biblically justified notion. The Christians entering politics that I meet aren’t doing it to impose their evangelical point of view on the country, but to contribute as a living stone, as salt and light in the places where decisions are made that affect all of us.
How can Christians active in politics avoid falling into divisive battles? Among politically interested Christians there can be a strong temptation to “dominionism,” that is to say, the desire to take political power with the goal of imposing Christian values on all of society. It seems to me that that is not the model that we find in the Gospels or modeled by Jesus Christ. His example is men and women at the heart of society who, by their behavior, by their actions, by their words, impact society positively, but who never force their will on others.
In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” In France, we have a very strict separation between church and state. It would be absolutely forbidden for any French group to take power in the name of one religion or faith.
How would you answer those who say that France is in danger of losing its culture and heritage of Western liberal values? In Europe it’s true that there is a big sociological and cultural shift that can give us the feeling that our Christian heritage is deconstructing or weakening. So I would respond this way to those who worry about Christian societal values and heritage dissolving: This heritage must be transmitted, not through power but through incarnation.
The challenge today for European Christians is to recover the joy of being a Christian and to daily, peacefully declare their hope in Christ in their manner of loving and living with fellow colleagues and citizens. It’s in re-becoming Christ’s disciples that the 23 million European evangelical Protestants can again positively impact society.
Your book Un avenir, une éspérance was recently released. What is your hope for this book, and for whom is it intended? The subtitle of the book is “A user’s manual against discouragement and disillusion.” There has been a problem with religious expression in France since the Revolution, and in the book I aim to address that. It is precisely the capacity to dialogue, confront, and debate ideas that makes the richness of French society.
There is no reason that those who have a spiritual hope cannot share that, right alongside those who have hope in politics, unions, ecology, or philosophy. So fundamentally, I wanted to write a book that would be an encouragement. It tells my personal story, but also the story of how the chaplaincy was created and the interactions with representatives and senators and the important role they play in our democracy. I hope that it will encourage Christians to better know, understand, and pray for their political representatives.
The most encouraging thing you’ve seen in your work? The most discouraging thing? The most encouraging thing is seeing the real commitment of many parliamentarians. French public opinion is very critical of the political class, but the majority of elected officials I personally know have a true vocation to work for the common good. They invest time, hard work, and sacrifice in trying to improve our country and better our laws to protect the weakest and increase justice. It is a true calling, and that’s why I encourage Christians to respect them and pray for them.
The most discouraging thing is that there are almost 1,000 parliamentarians, and I am alone in this work! I would love to grow our team in order to be more available and do more.
How can Christians in other countries pray for France? We need to pray that peaceful elections will take place and help to create a good political and civil climate. And the other prayer is that the French will use their right to vote. There is a high abstention rate in France, particularly among young people. Our democracy is envied in many countries. But if we want our future government to be representative of the population, people need to put aside their disillusion and vote.
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