The Christian Right is Wrong

An interesting document has just dropped into my in-box. It is a ‘Declaration of Christian Conscience’, to be found at www.westminster10.org.uk

It is signed by a number of Christian leaders, all of them noted for their theological conservatism. Christians across the land are being urged to sign the declaration to demonstrate the demographic power of conservative Christianity.

Some of the lead signatories are my friends, and I agree with many of the principles articulated, but this document is a disaster. It will reduce significantly the ability of Christians to make a contribution to public life. And that’s a shame.

The Declaration begins with an explicit theological statement: ‘As Christians we reaffirm historic belief in God the Father (who created us and gave us the blueprint for our lives together); in God the Son Jesus Christ our Saviour (accepting his incarnation, teaching, claims, miracles, death, resurrection and return in judgment); and in God the Holy Spirit (who lives within us, guides us and gives us strength). We commit ourselves to worship, honour and obey God.’

The parallels with the foundational creeds of Christianity are unmistakable, and we’re meant to see them. The clear message is: If you call yourself a Christian, you’ll agree with what’s in this Declaration. And the corollary is deafening, threatening, and equally unmissable: If you don’t agree with what’s in this Declaration, you’re not Christian at all: you’re beyond the pale, and ought to watch your eternal back. This is sheep and goats stuff.

And with what will you agree if your name is written in the Book of Life (ie your name appears as a signatory to the Declaration)? Well, some of it is wonderful. You will, for instance, ‘support, protect and be advocates for ….all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, in single parent families, poor, exploited, trafficked, appropriately seeking asylum, threatened by environmental change, or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies.’

But read on: ‘…we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with [heterosexual] marriage.’ It’s inelegantly drafted: no one can force anyone to the purely mental act of ‘equating’. But it means that if you’re a proper Christian, you will actively discriminate against committed
homosexual couples, and will go to the legal and possibly actual barricades in order to insist that that is what God demands. It makes anti-gay sentiment (no, not just pro-heterosexual marriage sentiment, which is something else entirely) a defining characteristic of Christian belief. It’s up there with belief in the resurrection.

For many, many Christians, that’s just bad theology.

There’s an unpleasant stridency about many of the assertions. It starts with an ominous non-sequitur: ‘As UK citizens we affirm our Christian commitment …. to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly.’ (Emphasis added) . So: don’t worry, it’s saying: we’re good democratic citizens, under the rule of law, just as St. Paul told us to be. Except where we decide that we’re not subject to the rule of law. It goes on: ‘We will not be intimidated by any cultural or political power into silence or acquiescence and we will reject measures that seek to over-rule our Christian consciences or to restrict our freedoms to express Christian beliefs, or to worship and obey God.’

I put aside the fact that I simply can’t imagine Jesus drafting that paragraph. I put aside my own personal conviction that the conversion of Constantine and the consequent association of Christianity with political power was an unmitigated catastrophe – a radical perversion of Christianity. Speaking purely as a
citizen, I’m worried. If one accepts the Declaration’s reasoning, there can be no possible objection to the rule of Britain’s Muslim communities by Shari’ a law. Perhaps that should happen, but it is not as blindingly obvious that it should happen as the Declaration suggests. There’s something to discuss, and this Declaration is saying that there isn’t – that it’s simple.

In one leap, the Westminster 2010 Declaration has catapulted the Religious Right onto the UK political stage. In the US, the reputation of this lobby has done Christianity incalculable harm. It threatens to do so here. A recent survey of US non-church-goers asked ‘What three characteristics do you associate with
Christians?’ ‘(1) Anti-gay. (2) Hypocritical. (3) Judgmental’ were the responses. Up until now Christians in the UK have been more kindly viewed. At worst, we’ve tended to think of lisping, weak-tea sipping ecclesiastical
irrelevance. But the Westminster 2010 move threatens to change that. It is likely to engender active dislike of Christians, and consequently to make it much more difficult for Christians to influence policy. They’ve done that very effectively in the past – but generally by gracious, gentle, almost imperceptible osmosis rather than aggressive pamphleteering. Yes, Wilberforce was needed. Yes, circumstances will sometimes drag brave Bonhoeffers into the limelight. But rarely, and never, ever, in defence of Christians’ own ‘rights’.

The Declaration will tar moderate, mainstream Christians with its brush. It will be assumed, for instance, that if you identify yourself as Christian you’re militantly anti-gay. The Declaration will force division between Christians. The gentler ones will be forced to say: ‘Yes, I’m Christian, but not one of them’. And it will tend to silence them. There are many matters on which they, and others, will agree with the Declaration’s signatories. But they will tend to keep quiet, thinking that if they speak up, they’ll be thought of as endorsing the whole shrill package.

As a campaigning strategy, the Declaration is inept. If the organisers had omitted their explicitly Christian, credal prologue, cut out the anti-gay stuff, drafted the pro-life sections rather more carefully and excised the
threat of civil disobedience, they’d have been left with a document that would have been happily signed by Christians of all complexions, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and by the theologically baffled but well-meaning of  the UK. And that really would have given the politicians something to think about.

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3 Responses to The Christian Right is Wrong

  • Peter Wicks says:

    Is the Declaration really inept as a campaigning strategy? If its purpose is (as I suspect) to defend a conservative version of the Christian faith, as opposed to influencing policy in line with broadly Christian values, then it’s probably quite well done, even if no less deplorable.

  • Dennis Tuchler says:

    The organization types in the Church are “circling the wagons” and waiting for the final onslaught. What the C of E will get, I think, is yawns and will slip further into the status of an angry and defensive minority. How, by the way, are the Conservatives reacting to this? The leadership of that party might include many who agree with the Declaration.

    In my country, the religious right owns one of the two major political party, and the Declaration may well express the feelings of a good part of that party and, indeed, a small but significant portion of the other, as well.

  • Jonathan Herring says:

    Those supporting this declaration have now listed candidates they approve of in marginal constituancies. A substantial majority of them come from one party. No prize for guessing which!!

    http://www.westminster2010.org.uk/candidates/marginals

    Yet again we see how easily religious belief can be misused to peruse personal agendas.

    Contrast the Westminster 2010 document with the one produced by the Archbishop of Canberbury which has a strikingly different set of priorities for voters:

    http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=93564

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