THis was published in part on LibCon today.
Inspired by the United States?
When David Cameron rolled up his shirt sleeves, and adopted the language of ‘hope and change’, after hiring President Obama’s aides, speculation was rife that he was trying to replicate one of the most successful election campaigns in American history.
Within two days of the election being called, Cameron placed a cut in the upper time limits for abortion, and ‘religious values’, at the heart of his election platform. ’Obama-like’ rhetoric may be flying around, but this is straight from the Republican playbook.
Despite his personal voting record on gay rights and abortion, and the increasing influence of Tim Montgomery and his Conservative Christian Fellowship (bridging the gap between Christianity and the Conservative Party): there were concerns he would resist this move.
The inextricable web of right wing Christian lobby groups, think tanks, and political associations who have worked tirelessly to emulate the strategies of their American cousins must be relieved. Their narrow political agenda of opposing gay rights, abortion and sex education is rapidly becoming synonymous with the ‘moral’ concern of the entire Christian community. Their extensive work encouraging Christians to politicize their faith, and establishing their influence within the Conservative Party is bearing fruit.
Goading Cameron with warnings that this election hinges on the ‘religious vote,’ appears to have worked -but will the rewards they promise him materialise?
How was Cameron convinced?
There has long been worry about the influence of fundamentalist Lobby groups like ‘Christian Concern for Our Nation’(CCFON) . Their opaque links with Conservative MPs like Nadine Dorries, have been subject to scrutiny, but their presence in almost every news story which pushes this agenda show their strategy is not just political.
In the week that Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling forgot that ‘sincerely held beliefs about homosexuality’, were the reason for equality legislation in the first place, a B+B owning couple (advised by the Christian Institute-but CLC would have happily taken it) reframed their blatant homophobic discrimination, as an expression of Christianity. The news was dominated by a debate which skilfully redrew the established principle that equality legislation applies to businesses, as a new attack on the right to religious freedom at home.
Nurses being asked to remove jewellery, sex education, abortion, and equality legislation –CCFON present it all as evidence that Christianity is under attack-with the right wing press dutifully generating acres of coverage, implying the public agree. Never really mentioning the common source of press releases.
Christians ‘united’ and ready to act?
When Aaqil Ahmed was appointed BBC Head of Religious Programming, he felt the effect of CCFON’s ability to mobilize ‘persecuted Christians’ to ‘defend’ their faith.
Publications like ‘Christian Voice’ and the Catholic Herald have a long history of politicizing their readers, but the recent ‘declaration of conscience’ which proudly features the Archbishop of Canterbury’s name alongside CCFON and their associates, took that to a whole new level.
It has been presented as a ‘united front’ of British Churches, but this declaration features fundamentalist anti-abortion charities like Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), whose anti-abortion lobbying force in Parliament have caused concern within the house, and from the Charities Commission.
Professional bodies like the homophobic, anti-abortion Christian Medical Fellowship, who guide their members in refusing to deliver health services, sit there alongside the Christian Legal Centre (closely linked to CCFON, specialising in the type of obfuscatory legal advice, which allowed Chris Graylings B+B couple to dominate our news).
The British version of the Manhattan Declaration declares their narrow political agenda- the ‘moral responsibility’ of the entire Christian Community, and appears to have left Cameron in no doubt of the potential gains in embracing it.
Will Britain go the way of the US?
Cameron and the Christian Right may look to the US for strategy, but the way this agenda is used to dismiss everything from science education to universal healthcare, is a cautionary tale for voters. This move could backfire.
Making abortion a political issue, sends a reassuring message to right wing christian groups, but simultaneously paying lip service to ‘gay rights’ and ‘abortion on demand’ underestimates the electorate. I doubt this move was universally welcomed within the Conservative Party.
The assassination of George Tiller, and 68’000 lives lost yearly through restriction of safe abortion, have etched the hypocrisy of ‘pro-life’ rhetoric onto Britain’s consciousness .People are questioning the moral authority of the Catholic Church for themselves, and the wider Christian community will surely tire of their faith being tied up with such a toxic agenda.
This agenda is a political one, defined solely by the restriction of other people’s rights-yet any challenge from those whose rights are to be restricted, is portrayed as more evidence of the persecution of a faith.
What these groups have achieved in the UK and in the Conservative Party, is not to be underestimated, but historically there has been little appetite for US style ‘faith-based’ politics in the UK, and the level of organization they employ has not hidden the fact that these are views which, without obfuscation and manipulation have little public support.
If this doesn’t backfire, the US provides a clear vision of the future. Maybe Libby Brooks was right, and we should dust off our ‘pro-choice’ banners?’’