The “Christian Right” in Britain – inasmuch as it exists – is not like the Christian Right in the US. Over there, conservatism on issues such as marriage and abortion seems to go hand in hand with right-wing views on economics and foreign policy. Over here, we have conservative Christian lobby groups with a far more narrow focus. Organisations such as the Christian Institute, Christian Concern/Christian Legal Centre and so-called Anglican Mainstream focus largely on attacking LGBT rights. They also speak out against abortion, Islam and the supposed marginalisation of Christians in Britain.
But unlike their US counterparts, these groups rarely comment explicitly on economics or international relations. True, the tiny Christian Party adopts a right-wing stance on virtually every issue, cheering on Trident and tax cuts for the rich. In contrast, the (slightly older) Christian People’s Alliance is just as hostile to LGBT rights and Islam, but has a suprisingly good record of campaigning against the arms trade and talks quite a bit about poverty.
Shortly before the 2010 general election, Christian Concern appeared to endorse the candidacy of George Hargreaves, the Christian Party’s leader, in an email bulletin to supporters. The bulletin clearly provoked some negative reactions, as the group almost immediately issued another email insisting that they do not endorse one party or another.
This makes an email that they have sent out today particularly interesting. When giving advice to Christians about voting in tomorrow’s local elections, there is only one issue they mention: same-sex marriage.
Subscribers to their mailing list received an “action alert” today that declared:
“Please take the time to find out which of your candidates supports marriage as between one man and one woman before you go to place your vote.”
You might think that the afternoon before polling day is a bit late to be finding out such things. You might also wonder what local elections have to do with marriage law. The email declares:
“Local authorities hold a lot [of] power which they could use to penalise people or organisations who believe in authentic marriage, so it’s important that local councillors are pro real marriage.”
There is then a link to a leaflet produced by the “Coalition for Marriage” about the links between local government and marriage law. It consists largely of unsubstantiated statements. For example:
“Schools could be forced to promote the new definition of marriage in the classroom. The rights of parents could be ignored, and teachers who believe in traditional marriage could be pushed out of their careers… Churches that refuse to hold same-sex weddings may be denied grants or refused permission to hire halls from councils in the future.”
No evidence is provided to back up these claims (I hope that schools will encourage children to consider all sides of the argument on ethical, political and religious issues – as they are already expected to).
The only party that the email mentions by name is the Conservatives. Christian Concern quote a Daily Telegraph poll that shows:
“…that the plan to redefine marriage makes far more people ‘less likely’ to vote Conservative than ‘more likely’ to do so.”
Speaking personally, there is nothing that would make me “less likely” to vote Conservative, as there has never been any chance of my voting Conservative at all.
Will Christian Concern’s supporters vote primarily (or even solely) on the basis of which candidate or candidates oppose same-sex marriage? This could have alarming results. Of course, there are a few Labour, Lib Dem and SNP candidates who oppose marriage equality, but most anti-equality candidates are likely to be Tory, Independent or from far-right parties such as the UK Independence Party.
This is particularly relevant at a time when UKIP is under such scrutiny. Last week, their candidate Anna Marie Crampton was thrown out of the party for anti-Semitic comments on Facebook. When the story broke, one of the first to call for Crampton’s expulsion was Sam Westrop, director of the interfaith group Stand for Peace. He said, ““UKIP, to its credit, has expelled extremist and bigoted members in the past.” It is able to have done so only because it has had so many of them to expel.
Three years ago, I analysed UKIP’s policies and discovered remarkable overlaps with the BNP. UKIP are not only anti-European, anti-migrant and anti-Muslim. They also deny the reality of climate change, support an increase in military spending and want a flat rate of income tax (so milllionaires pay the same as cleaners and nurses). UKIP believe that the Tory cuts are not going far enough. Nigel Farage has described David Cameron, the man currently presiding over the destruction of the welfare state, as “a social democrat”.
And of course, UKIP is also strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. Winston McKenzie, UKIP’s candidate in the Croydon North by-election, made this one of the main points of his campaign, targeting religious voters with the untrue claim that the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem parties want to force churches and mosques to host same-sex weddings.
Mackenzie also described adoption by same-sex couples as “child abuse”. The party’s spokespeople disagreed with him, but they didn’t expel him. Instead, it was the head of UKIP’s youth wing who was forced out of his job for supporting same-sex marriage.
Is this the party that Christians are being urged to support tomorrow? Are Christian Concern simply naïve about the likely economic policies of most candidates opposed to same-sex marriage, or are they actively in favour of them?