Evangelicals, Roman Catholics and the Conservative Party
When Christians in politics agree to be interviewed by an increasingly secular and occasionally christianophobic if not completely religiophobic media, they can expect to be lampooned, caricatured and misrepresented. Either that or very subtly tarnished with a whiff of sinister motive and conspiracy.
Hundreds of thousands of people will have seen the cover of the Financial Times magazine while barely a few thousand might ever bother to read the article to which it pertains. And so we have the beatific vision of St Timothy of Salisbury, a byzantine-style mosaic icon, complete with halo aura, gazing longingly up to the heavens awaiting the parousia.
But this is light-hearted heresy.
The theological statement is in the scripture:
“A Conservative MP was stage-whispering in the leathery, dark Pugin Room of the House of Commons late last year. With a view of the Thames, teacup in hand, he hissed at me: “They’ve campaigned to change the processes so that they can bus in their voters, stuffing the selection meetings with their people. They don’t outnumber us, but they can out-organise us. They’re taking over the party.”
As the FT explains, ‘They’ are Evangelical Christians.
(cue 'Phantom of the Opera' theme)
Can you imagine any newspaper printing this about Jews or Muslims?
Or the black, gay or disabled?
Actually, forget the tediously predictable.
Can you imagine a newspaper talking about Roman Catholics in this manner?
The unnamed Conservative MP talks of these Evangelical vermin having to bus in ‘their voters’ and ‘stuffing’ meetings with ‘their people’ with the sinister warning that these awful people have a distinct strategic organisational advantage and are ‘taking over the party’.
God forbid that we might actually have a few convicted Christians in the Conservative Party. In vogue at the moment are the 'exotic' religions and the ‘fairly classic Church of England faith that grows hotter and colder by moments'.
The only thing worse than a newspaper printing such bile about Evangelicals would be finding a Conservative MP who would dare to speak in such terms of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, or the gay, black and Asian.
Or Roman Catholics.
”Still,” the Pugin Room MP continued, “You know, the Catholics send e-mails to one another asking them to pray for them at selection meetings, but the point of the messages is to make sure that they all know who is standing where and when.”
If any Tory ever dared to cast doubt upon the sincerity of Muslims/Sikhs/Hindus at prayer, doubtless (s)he would be dismissed immediately by David Cameron in the fashion of that infamous and disgusting racist Patrick Mercer.
Unless, of course, they were one of the favoured inner circle for whom there appears to be a very great deal of latitude indeed.
The reality is that any MP or candidate (pace Joanne Cash) who dared to utter anything which might be interpreted as a slur upon the religio-political probity of Roman Catholics would also be cast into oblivion.
And yet you would be hard-pressed to put a hair’s breadth between the socio-political objectives of the Evangelicals and those of the Roman Catholics. On poverty, family breakdown, debt, abortion, sexuality, marriage, drug abuse, education, etc., etc., the two would be in complete accord.
Yet the FT avers that ‘some are asking what degree of power a few evangelical Christians – only 3 per cent of the party members, according to one poll – will wield’ in the next Conservative government.
And the black pope or bête noire is Tim Montgomerie.
Not Edward Leigh.
Or David Amess, Tony Baldry, Julian Brazier, Bill Cash, Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green or Mark Hoban or any one of the other Roman Catholics who will be in Parliament after the next General Election.
Of course, we are never told the identity of these ‘some’. But one has to wonder if it doesn’t include one MP who, according to the FT, ‘credits Montgomerie for his scalp’ (and, certainly, whispering and bitter hissing would be very much his style).
And one also has to wonder to which poll they are referring, and why it is presumed that this ‘influence’ will not also forward the identical agendas of Roman Catholic and Church of England members, and also good many Muslim, Sikh and Hindu members.
Not to mention a few agnostic or atheist socially-conservative members, like David Willetts and Oliver Letwin.
And don't even bother trying to mention the 'P' word. Good grief, Protestants have become the rarest of species on the Conservative benches: the word itself has become synonymous with bigotry, intolerance and divisiveness. And 'Evangelical' is rapidly going the same way.
The reason the Centre for Social Justice can lay claim to having crafted 70 Conservative policies to date is that these policies are consonant with one of the Party’s oldest and most enduring themes, that of Disraeli’s ‘One Nation’ social agenda. With the support of the Christians, David Cameron has shifted public perception of the Conservative Party towards being ‘the party of the poor’: it has, once again, become a ‘broad church’ party.
Christians can, however, expect to be disappointed by a Cameron government.
But only insofar as all special-interest groups will be.
Politics is about diplomacy towards what is possible; it is about policy and compromise, and it would be naive to believe that the Christians will win all their fights with the Party machine.
But the advantage is that the Party now has an Anglican leading it; the first since Margaret Thatcher who has dared to talk about his faith as Party Leader. Of course, the times have changed, as has the media’s knee-jerk response to classify as a ‘nutter’ any politician who dares to ‘do God’. But David Cameron is attuned to postmodern Christianity in quite a remarkably intuitive way. It will not be to everyone’s tastes, but, with the right advisers, in this he can incarnate the ‘change’ he desires for his Party in ways his ethnicity and sexuality cannot.
And a postmodern Conservative Christian will not be averse to tightening the abortion limit any more than he will baulk at recognising civil partnerships in the tax system. But he will also listen to CSJ as much as he will to the CPS: votes on ‘conscience’ issues will be free votes, and we will witness a return to the primacy of the religious conscience over demands for ‘equality’.
And if we do not, the ‘3 per cent’ of Evangelicals will be the least of David Cameron’s worries: he will have his solitary 'convicted Anglican' and his Roman Catholic stalwarts ranged on the benches behind him to confront his wobbly ‘fairly classic Church of England faith that grows hotter and colder by moments’. But the FT won’t be doing an article on them because that would be ‘bigoted’ and ‘anti-Catholic’.
And they don’t have a website or a blog.