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.