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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

General Election Viewpoint: What no Westminster Declaration this time round? Wonder why?

Five years ago, in the run-up to the General Election, I posted an objection to the ‘Westminster Declaration’, which was an attempt to get every Christian to sign a petition to protest against various medical ethical issues and, of course, only allow heterosexual marriage to be called marriage. I wrote about it at the time because I felt it was deeply flawed when it talked about stem cell research and the plight of embryos, but didn’t mention IVF, which struck me as hypocritical.

I also didn’t like it because I thought it was mainly about the typical ‘micro-morality’ self-marginalising issues that Christians get het up about. And I felt it was probably, on balance, homophobic.

(Now I think it is definitely homophobic. There’s nothing in there about preventing divorced people from getting married again – something Jesus clearly said was a sin. There is a reference to marriage being "lifelong", but nothing explicitly about divorce. I suspect the hypocrisy is because there are lots of divorced-and-remarried people sitting in the evangelical churches this Declaration was pitched to, but not many gay people.)

Anyway, this gained traction. Some of my Christian Facebook friends signed it. I know people who were at churches where everyone was asked to sign it. It was supported by groups like Christian Voice and bloggers like the self-styled Archbishop Cranmer (who in reality is an ex-teacher from Slough with no real ecclesiastic credentials). It was supposed to be a big deal.

I also knew Christians who didn’t sign it, for a variety of reasons – the language, the way it sought to enshrine Christian privilege, the distillation of the gospel into medico-legal nitpicking, the blatant homophobia.

But what’s interesting is that the Westminster Declaration hasn’t been revived, revised, updated or promoted this time around. Nobody has been posting it on Facebook saying they’ve signed it and all other true Christians should sign it too. The website is still running, but the latest news on there is from 2012. 

Why not?

Is it because gay marriage is now legal and therefore the Declaration is irrelevant? The battle has been lost.
I don’t think so. I think it’s something else.

A quick run-down of the major exponents reveals some very small-c conservative organisations. I say ‘small-c’ because none of them would publicly advocate any particular party. I know one of them, CARE, provides a rolling supply of free interns to Conservative MPs. I know someone high up in an organisation linked to CARE described their organisation as ‘conservative at heart’, although I don’t know how big the C was when he said that. It was in a discussion about party politics, so there’s an implied large C. And supporters of the Declaration were certainly right wing. Cranmer has a list of Conservative Heroes on his blog’s sidebar, starting with Maggie Thatcher, so we know whose side he’s on.

And you know what... cynically, I’d say this was an operation to swing Christians towards voting Conservative. The Westminster Declaration website listed the opinions of all the candidates on these ‘crucial’, ‘Christian’ issues. And of course, the Conservatives were more likely to be against them. Generally right-wingers get more agitated at the thought of people having control over their own bodies and freedom to express themselves in a way that doesn’t conform with the majority view in society. Independence of action implies independence of thought; not following the rules implies questioning authority. And where would that lead?

But then it was David Cameron’s Tory-led coalition that made gay marriage legal. That must stick in the craw of the organisations that led the Westminster Declaration. Imagine persuading people, firstly, that these issues really mattered, and then secondly, implying that they ought to vote Conservative to avoid these terrible things happening. And then, when they got their wish – a Tory government in all but name – those things happened anyway.

Talk about duped. Cameron actually called gay marriage a cause he passionately believed in. After he was PM, of course. He’s many things, but he isn’t actually stupid. You don’t alienate a group of people who might swing the election for you. There are about 6,000 Christians in most electoral seats. That’s a large lump of electorate.

CARE have gone for a different tack this year, which is much less bombastic and preachy even if it about the same old personal morality issues. The only people trying to repeat the work of 2010 are the decidedly fringe 'Christian Party' who have turned it into a 'Declaration of British Values.' Generally it seems like Christians aren't getting sucked into this again this time round.

It could even be the case that more Christians have realised that after five years of exponential foodbank growth and bedroom taxes and disabled people killing themselves before they starve to death, and tax avoidance by the very rich, and a government that went to war with Brussels to make sure bankers could get their bonuses, and scandal after scandal, there are more important things than stem cells and whether gay people can commit to love each other until death parts them.

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