57% of UK Christians will abandon the Conservatives over ‘gay marriage’
The reality is that British Christians are not only divided denominationally, but fractured and fragmented within those denominations, with many now purposely rejecting (and often publicly repudiating) foundational creeds and confessions of faith. When we see bishops rejecting the virgin birth and denying the resurrection, or vicars and priests questioning the atonement and redefining sin, it is no wonder that questions of morality – the secondary and tertiary hurdles to Christian unity – are downplayed as the Church seeks to define what it means by holiness.
There have, of course, always been differences of opinion between what constitutes a primary article of faith – that which justifies schism – and those which may be termed ‘second order’. Both of these have their roots in cultural identity and mission tradition, and so, in a liberal democracy, are expressed diversely at the ballot box. But the ultimate integrity of the Church is dependent on a single identifiable ministry of unity to which all local ministries are accountable. They do not all have to agree with each other, but they are commanded to love one another. Where there is no love, there is no faith.
Democratic politicians are compelled to the broadest appeal: they may neither believe so strongly nor repudiate so vehemently as to alienate any influential constituency. They must become, as St Paul exhorted, all things to all people. There is healthy debate and disagreement on the extent of that ‘becoming’, but ultimately, as Shakespeare observed, politicians must seem to see the things they do not.
It is not yet the case that ‘gay marriage’ has become to British Christians what abortion is to those in the United States, but a recent survey suggests that it has every danger of becoming so. ComRes were commissioned by the Premier Christian Media Trust to interview church-going Christians aged 18+ on their opinions of David Cameron’s intention to redefine marriage. 544 people were interviewed between 25-31 October 2011, and the results are available online.
Firstly, it must be noted that this survey relates only to ‘church-going’ Christians: there can be no quantifiable validity or replicability in the wider ‘census group’ of professing Christians: we are here concerned with somewhere between 5-7 million, not 49 million. A previous survey established that 7.6 million attend church monthly (including 4.9 million weekly). If one were to add fringe and occasional churchgoers (5 million), we arrive at the figure of 12.6 million (26 per cent of the population).
But even the most conservative estimate of 4.9 million is not without significant influence in marginal constituencies (as Dr Evan Harris discovered in Oxford West and Abingdon), and it would be politically naive to assert that these results have no bearing at all on the views of the ‘cultural Christians’, for whom marriage as the union between one man and one woman may have a far deeper cultural resonance than any other sexual ethic.
What the survey shows is that the Conservative Party risks losing 57 per cent of church-going Christians if they proceed with their plans to legislate to permit ‘gay marriage’. Significantly, not one respondent claimed this move would make them more disposed to vote Conservative. The Prime Minister is therefore gambling on a policy which may lose him more votes than it will gain. In more detail:
85% were concerned that the value of marriage would be further underminedDenominationally, the results were unsurprising. While only 11 per cent of those surveyed supported ‘gay marriage’, a massive 83 per cent were opposed (75% ‘strongly’). Hostility was particularly concentrated among the Pentecostals (69%) and Roman Catholics (75%), which are the two groups unified in the US on the question of abortion.
78% that it would be harder to argue against ‘other novel types of relationship’ such as polygamy
88% that schools would be required to teach the equal validity of same-sex and heterosexual relationships
93% that clergy would have to conduct gay marriages against their consciences
This really ought to be of concern to CCHQ if not to the Prime Minister (not to mention individual MPs). If 57 per cent of church-going Christians would be less inclined to back the Conservatives in future – this being especially true of Pentecostals and Roman Catholics – that amounts to anywhere between 2.8-7.2 million votes.
While Roman Catholics have historically been more inclined to vote Labour than Conservative, it would be ironic if, having signalled an amendment to the Act of Settlement to permit a Roman Catholic to marry the Monarch, more Roman Catholics were actually alienated by the introduction of ‘gay marriage’ than were attracted by the superficial pitch for religious equality.
It would be a profound mistake and strategic electoral folly for the Conservative Party to believe that the gay rights lobby in the UK is stronger than the Christian lobby. Better organised, possibly. Louder, most certainly. But when it comes to putting crosses on ballot papers, the Conservatives have historically got the lion's share of the Christian vote. If the party were to lose millions of these, the boycott/exodus would represent a seismic psephological shift which would certainly lose the party the next general election. And this whole survey hasn’t even touched on the effects of the policy on Muslims and Sikhs – two ethno-religious constituencies David Cameron has fought hard to attract. Somehow, His Grace thinks the concept of ‘gay marriage’ would repel ‘strongly’ a rather higher proportion of these two groups than it does the Pentecostals and Roman Catholics.
The 'gay' issue is by no means at the top of the agenda for British Christians: they are every bit as concerned with poverty, family breakdown, injustice and ‘Broken Britain’ as the Prime Minister. They may differ in the solutions, but they will talk to each other, debate, listen and learn. But David Cameron has consistently refused to listen to Christians, and he now risks tarnishing the party's reputation with indifference. Considering that he lost the last general election by just 16,000 votes, his stragegy seems incomprehensible.