Faith

Martin Turner is a former chair of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum. He previously worked with Operation Mobilisation in Belgium, and is a member of Bidford Baptist Church (theBarn).

So British Christians will support the religious right? Wrong

See New Statesman – Culture wars

The re-election of George W Bush has prompted a flurry of news, magazine and broadcast articles agonising about the prospect of the rise of the religious right in Britain. The New Statesman, in the person of Cristina Odone, is particularly worried about the effect of the rise of evangelicalism in the UK. She is worried about the Alpha Course, which has attracted 1.6 million Britons (data – Christian Research), and its ‘propaganda’ campaign of 1,500 billboards, 3,000 buses and 290 taxi tip-up seats.

Odone also cites the eerie words of a British teenager who talks eloquently about how she attends the Christian Union at her school, doesn’t believe it is “right” to have sex before marriage, and regards the family unit as a sacred ideal.

To be fair, her cover story also highlights the growth of secularist fundamentalism: banning Christmas cards and changing ‘spouses’ to ‘partners’.

But there’s a fundamentally mistaken assumption in all of these kinds of articles: that Christians in Britain will tend to be right-wing, and that evangelical Christians will be especially right-wing.

Did the people who write these articles ever actually visit a church? And did they perhaps not spot that churches were leading opponents of the war in Iraq? Perhaps no-one remembers the church-led Jubilee 2000 campaign. It was, after all, four years ago. But somebody ought to have spotted that Christians last week opposed the legalisation of super-casinos, despite extreme pressure from US capitalists.

The truth is that the Christian faith is not beholden to any political party or political viewpoint. British evangelical Christians are pro-marriage, anti-abortion, and in unthinking moments may tend to favour Israel as an idea. So far so right. But they also oppose the greed culture espoused by Margaret Thatcher, support the rights of asylum seekers, and run hundreds of charities for third world development. Which would put them on the left of the spectrum. And then, Christians believe strongly in the conscience of the individual, in grace, freedom and the equality and dignity of all people of all races. Which puts them in the middle of the political spectrum.

The game really isn’t worth playing. Christianity – even evangelical Christianity – has been around a long, long time before British or US politics coalesced into right and left. And it will be around long after the current politics has changed into something else.

In the General Election next year, no party will have the right to call on the unqualified support of the churches. But all and any parties can show an awareness of the Christian worldview. That – and putting up politicians of integrity – may make the difference in swaying the Christian vote.

What did they expect to find?

See Reuters AlertNet – CWS Delegation to Middle East Finds Increasing Challenges for Region’s Christians .

Christians need to come out of the closet about the Middle East. We need to come clean about what we really believe, and be ready to relinquish the things we don’t.

Things that Christians don’t believe in include Arms Sales, Backing corrupt regimes, Condoning acts of violence against civilian populations, Deals for short-term political gain … (E, F, G, ….) oh, yes, and Oil. Oil is not part of the Christian gospel. Some of these things may be expedient, some of them may be necessary. But they are not ‘Christian’.

Things that Christians do believe include Atonement — bringing enemies together —, the Bible, Conscience … oh yes, and Evangelism.

Evangelism has become something of a dirty word, and Christians are getting to be ashamed of it. Somehow we’ve been talked into thinking that to go and have discussions with people of another religion is somehow wrong, whereas to go into their countries with tanks, mortars and attack-helicopters is somehow morally justifiable, and quite possibly (in an election year) the will of God.

Actually, the last words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels were ‘go into all the world and make disciples’. An exhortation to evangelism, not to invasion.

If Jesus Christ really does mean more to us than a symbol, we are going to have to make some choices.

The kind of people who have taught us to believe that ‘evangelism’ is something evil, a hangover from colonial days, usually seem to think it means going somewhere primitive, scaring some local people or possibly bribing them with Western goods, and then making them give up their age old customs and wear suits.

People who engage in cross-cultural evangelism in the 21st century don’t do that. Actually, it’s doubtful that the stereotype was ever true anywhere, but we’ll let that one pass. To Christians, evangelism is about passing on good news about peace with God. Right from the days of Paul, and certainly in modern times since Hudson Taylor, cross-cultural evangelists have adopted local dress, learned the local language, become part of the local culture. This is not an attempt to manipulate local people, or to slip in Christianity unnoticed, but to become a part of the community, to understand the people.

Christians in the Muslim world have always faced difficulties. Muslims don’t have a problem with Christians because they revere Christ. They don’t have a problem because (as George W Bush claimed) ‘we love freedom’. They have problems because they regard all Westerners as Christians, and therefore see Christians as people who eat defiled food, get drunk, and live promiscuous and immoral lives. It has taken many cross-cultural evangelists half a lifetime to prove by their own consistent lifestyles that this is not the case.

But consider again what ‘evangelism’ is – passing on good news about peace with God. The recent actions of the Western Powers in the Middle East would have made simply being a Christian a much more difficult and dangerous thing. It of course completely undermines any talk of good news or peace of any kind with anyone.

When a recent delegation of Christian leaders from the USA visited the Middle East, they found that the situation for Christians had indeed become markedly worse. But what were they expecting to find? Actually, probably that. Although American Republicanism appealed to a broad swathe of religious people in the USA, Christian leaders have known for a long time that what we are saying in the Middle East has been drastically undermined by what we are doing.

It’s time for Christians to stand up for what they really believe — or accept that religious words are merely a cover for a purely secular, political ethic. Christians can be people of good news about peace, or we can be people with bombs and guns and tanks. But — in the Middle East at least — we cannot be both.

It is now for Bush to prove he has integrity

Both Bush and Kerry made significant play on their Christian credentials in the run up to the election. It is now time for George W Bush to prove that his ‘faith-based’ politics goes all the way through.

If somebody genuinely wants to use their faith as a vote-winner, then they put themselves up for very strict scrutiny in office. It is not enough for George W Bush to support all the Christian issues which also happen to be Republican issues. He must tackle seriously the aspects of Christian faith which do not comfortably sit with right wing politics.

George W needs to prove that his Bible also contains the words ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, ‘Love your enemies’ and ‘Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath’. He needs to take seriously our responsibilities to the world God has created. The Middle East peace process, the Kyoto agreement and compassionate policy both at home and abroad are the fruits by which we should know him.

He now has the opportunity to do so.

Otherwise, after using his faith to appeal for Christian support, he should consider where he stands in the light of the third commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.”

Why Buttiglione has a right to his opinions – and the rest of us have a right not to employ him

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Barroso backs down over EU vote

Buttiglione has a right to his opinions. He must do – if not then we have succumbed to a new kind of censorship which does not remotely match our much vaunted views on human rights. But does this mean that he has a right to be Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner for the European Union? Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini certainly seems to think so. He has said that Buttiglione remains Italy’s candidate.

There’s a recent British comparison which no-one seems to have pointed out. Not so long ago a UKIP MEP was in trouble on a very similar issue. BBC NEWS | Politics | UKIP MEP in row over working women. After getting a seat on the Euopean Parliament’s women’s rights committee, he told journalists: “No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age.” He went on to say “I just don’t think they clean behind the fridge enough”. and “I am here to represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you get home. I am going to promote men’s rights.”

Of course, Godfrey Bloom later claimed that his remarks were humorous. Some of us, of course, believe that Bloom’s entire party is a bit of a joke. But I don’t think it’s the humour that saved him.

The difference, which Buttiglione and Frattini don’t seem to have grasped, is that there is a fundamental difference between an elected and an appointed office. In terms of mandate, a European Commissioner is exactly the same as a senior civil servant. Except of course that a senior civil servant actually had to go through a job interview to reach their position.

In some ways it is despicable for Godfrey Bloom to say the things he did, but, on the other hand, this may be exactly the kind of thing that the 14% of Yorkshirepersons who voted for him wanted to hear. And if not, they can vote for someone else next time.

We get no choice about Buttiglione – or, at least, we didn’t until now. The stand off engineered by the EU parliament has at last begun to swing the balance of power in favour of the elected assembly over the appointed bureaucracy.

There very definitely is a place for conscience and conviction in politics, whether it comes from faith, or from secular philosophy, or from being a very old-fashioned business man whose tongue moves faster than his brain. But that place is won through the ballot box, not through ministerial patronage.

If we are to learn one lesson from this constitutional crisis, it is that the current form of power vested in unelected commissioners is way past its sell-by date. It is festering on the shelf and should be dealt with before it turns nasty. Today the European Parliament came of age. It is high time that it be given the keys to the house.

Back to Top