We have more to fear from religious state orthodoxy than a biblically-illiterate Ukip councillor
A Ukip councillor from Henley-on-Thames has written to his local newspaper claiming that the current deluge of tempest and floods aflicting the United Kingdom are "divine retribution for the government's decision to legalise gay marriage". The subsequent outpouring of incredulity, condemnation and scorn has been rather disproportionate to the man's political (or religious) significance, except to say that elections to the European Parliament are fast approaching, and Ukip are widely tipped push the Conservative Party into a humiliating third place, if not win outright. Ergo, the merest unorthodox utterance by the lowliest of Nigel Farage's rabble army will be tend to be whipped up into a storm of shame and embarrassment.
David Silvester had been a life-long Tory (he is still named on Henley Conservatives' website as a branch treasurer). He defected to Ukip when David Cameron changed the natural-law (and dictionary) definition of marriage to embrace homosexual partnerships, thereby riding roughshod over millennia of Judæo-Christian orthodoxy (not to mention, Islamic, Hindu and Sikh beliefs on the primacy of the procreative potential of sexual union). The consequence of this, according to Mr Silvester, are storms, floods and other climactic judgments, which are God's warning about national rebellion, idolatry and apostasy.
The full letter is worth reading, not least because Mr Silvester expounds his belief and sets it in some sociological context, including the Queen's Coronation Oath. It is theologically naive and evidences spiritual immaturity, but the Bible exhorts us to nurture milk-drinkers onto meat (1 Cor 3:2), notwithstanding that some are patently unable to digest it.
David Silvester was probably nurtured in 80s Baptist charismatic fundamentalism and believes that sexual sin is worse than murder, torture, rape and genocide. If not, why is his God not busy flooding vast swathes of the Middle East? Surely the 'cleansing' of millions of Christians from the land is more offensive than a few gays in Henley-on-Thames? And why on earth is He sending the rains upon Bangladesh, which has quite strict laws on homosexuality?
Mr Silvester's letter is being widely trailed as a 'homophobic rant', but his target is not gays and lesbians but David Cameron who, he says, has acted "arrogantly against the Gospel". It is the Prime Minister who is to blame for the bad weather; not the LGBT communities whom God was perfectly happy to tolerate until Mr Cameron allowed them to marry. Only then did the Lord decide to flood the households of gay and straight alike (but not, it must be observed, No10 or Chequers). Quite why He seemed okay with civil partnership is something of a mystery. As His Grace has previously written:
His Grace has received an email telling him that these present floods and interminable downpours are God's judgment upon a sinful and rebellious nation.You may think David Silvester unutterably stupid, biblically illiterate or bigoted. You may decry the damage done to the Faith with each crass utterance. But the belief that "the scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel" will be somehow punished is not unique to a lowly Ukip councillor: you will find it expressed by a number of politicians - especially those of representing Northern Ireland constituencies. Why does the media tolerate the DUP's Rev'd William McCrea MP ranting about the 'Sin of the Nation' - basically lesbians having children and the number of mosques plaguing the land - but not Ukip's Councillor Silvester?
No, they absolutely and unequivocally are not.
Firstly, God promised never to do that again (Gen 9:11-17); and secondly, the books of wisdom found in the Bible suggest that the wicked may prosper while the righteous suffer. Job’s counsellors were of most use when they sat with him in silence for seven days (2:13). Though their understanding of suffering was partial, in their silence they moved towards empathy and understanding.
The truth is that if you scratch beneath the surface of any religiously-inclined politician (except, of course, Anglicans of the Magic-FM-in-the-Chilterns disposition), you will find 'bigoted' beliefs which will offend all manner of modern sensibilities. How many Muslims repudiate gay marriage? How many Hindus and Sikhs believe that disabled people are paying the price for wrongs done in previous lives? How many Roman Catholics believe the Church of England to be a sham of an institution, a facade of ecclesiology and a wayward expression of theology that needs bringing back into the fold? Bigotry is everywhere.
But the demand is for conformity to the zeitgeist: dissent is intolerable, and must be punished. Astonishingly, even The Spectator condemns Nigel Farage for his "laissez-faire approach on unconventional views". This is appalling bandwagon-jumping from the Spectator, which was once edited by that famous conventional conformist Boris Johnson; which conventionally supported David Cameron for the leadership of the Conservative Party before anyone else had even heard of him; which employs that renowned lover of convention Rod Liddle; and which conforms utterly to that well-known convention of repudiating every notion of man-made global warming.
For the Spectator, it appears that only in the realm of religion must everyone be blandly conventional.
Ukip said the views expressed by Mr Silvester were "not the party's belief" but defended his right to state his opinions. It is an obvious point, but (sadly) needs to made . A party spokeswoman said:
"If the media are expecting Ukip to either condemn or condone someone's personal religious views they will get absolutely no response. Whether Jain or Sikh or Buddhist or Sufi or Zoroastrian or Jewish or Muslim or Baptist or Hindu or Catholic or Baha'i or Animist or any other mainstream or minor religion or movement, we are taught as a tolerant society to accept a diversity of ideologies. Freedom to individual thought and expression is a central tenet of any open-minded and democratic country. It is quite evident that this is not the party's belief but the councillor's own and he is more than entitled to express independent thought despite whether or not other people may deem it standard or correct. That is what makes the United Kingdom such a wonderful, proud, diverse and free country."And so it should be. The imposition of a uniform pattern of public utterance exposes the merest trace of unorthodoxy as a jarring dissonance. Not since 1559 has there been an Act of Uniformity requiring everyone to assent to a particular worldview, and it took more than 300 years to eradicate that. In a free society, David Silvester ought to be free to express his religious views and Ukip free to select him as a candidate. There is far more to fear from intolerant assertions of state orthodoxy than a ranting Ukip councillor with outdated views on divine deluges. Biblical literacy ought not to be a qualification for standing for or holding public office: the ultimate judgment should lie with the electorate and the ballot box.