Thursday, 18 December 2008

How to elect an Evangelical

The establishment of the Church of England is back on the agenda again, with Archbishop Rowan Williams telling the New Statesman that abolishing the church-state link would be "by no means the end of the world". As usual with Williams, he manages to see at least three sides of the question, but on balance seems to want the link to remain, if only because "it's a very shaky time for the public presence of faith in society". Hmm.

It's often felt to be paradoxical that American politics is dominated by religious and moral questions, while the state is constitutionally secular, whereas in officially Anglican Britain serious politicians are generally afraid of "doing God". Certainly, it's hard to imagine a Mike Huckabee or even a Sarah Palin achieving prominence here. The Rev Julian Mann, vicar at the Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge in South Yorkshire, has previously written on Cranmer's blog about the shortage of men among regular churchgoers. Today he offers readers of Heresy Corner his thoughts about how an evangelical Christian might become prime minister. The trick is simple: make him black.

Here's what he says:

Great Black Hope for an Evangelical Prime Minister

In all the soul-searching following the election of Barack Obama over the likelihood of a black Prime Minister, what has not registered on the public radar is the fact that a black person is far more likely to become PM than an evangelical Christian.

It is difficult to overstate the extent to which evangelical views on a
wide range of issues are currently counter-cultural in the public
sphere. Our view that salvation is possible only through faith in Jesus
Christ goes against contemporary philosophical pluralism; our view that
sexual love is to be expressed exclusively within heterosexual marriage
goes against the gay rights agenda; our view that life begins at
conception goes against the woman’s right to choose over abortion.

The list goes on. Evangelicalism in 21st century Britain is a
counter-cultural movement. Surely, this militates against a clear,
biblically-consistent evangelical being elected to lead one of the major
secular political parties, let alone leading one to an election victory.

Why are we so unpopular? I am not embarrassed to assert a spiritualised
explanation along the lines, to quote St Paul, that ‘we are not
contending against flesh and blood, but against the powers, against the
world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of
wickedness in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6v12 – RSV). But nor will
I claim that we evangelicals have been entirely blameless.

Historically, lack of cultural awareness in our movement, unwarranted
claims to insights into the workings of Providence, and general lack of
‘people skills’ have also been contributory factors. I must confess to
these, as well as to plenty of other 'manifold sins and wickedness', to quote the
General Confession at Holy Communion according to the Book of Common
Prayer (an evangelical liturgy by the way).

The spiritualised explanation does not preclude historical analysis or
penitent self-awareness because, according to our understanding, the
devil uses means and factors in the realm of sinful human experience in
order to oppose God. At the vanguard of these have been the
revolutionary social, political, cultural and moral changes unleashed by the 1960s, transmuting eventually into the new morality of New Labour.

So, there are contemporary factors in our post-1960s culture accounting
for evangelical unpopularity. But historically evangelicals have rarely
held high office in British politics. They had tremendous influence in
the 18th and 19th centuries through Parliamentarians such as William
Wilberforce and the Earl of Shaftesbury but rarely seats in the Cabinet.

The last clearly identifiable evangelical to be Prime Minister was
Wilberforce’s friend and anti-slave trade ally Spencer Perceval, who was
assassinated in 1812. There have been devout Christian Prime Ministers
since, including William Gladstone and Alec Douglas-Home, and those who
would be willing to identify themselves as low church, including Andrew
Bonar Law and arguably Margaret Thatcher with her Methodist background.
But since Perceval we have not had a publicly-professing evangelical.

That is because evangelicalism, with its view of the Bible as the Word
of God and therefore the supreme spiritual and moral authority in human
affairs, is intrinsically a counter-cultural movement in any and every
age. Its influence has ebbed and flowed in British history, but with the
exception of one assassinated Prime Minister it has not occupied the top
political job.

In the current cultural climate, the only realistic hope of an
evangelical ever becoming PM is not white but black. It is hard to
conceive of a member of such an obviously counter-cultural movement
becoming PM in our 'liberalocracy', to use Daily Mail editor Paul
Dacre's term, without the novelty value of the Obama effect.

So, a black evangelical in No. 10, who is a committed, unashamed
disciple of God’s one and only Son Jesus Christ, believes He died for
our sins in our place, and is committed to obeying His Word across the
whole of life, is a prospect evangelicals should get praying for.

Quite how far he or she would be able translate evangelical convictions
into political reality is open to question but we do have our Lord’s
promise that ‘a good man out of his treasure brings forth good’ (Matthew
12v35). Also, given the unfortunate historical precedent, the office of
PM is clearly a dangerous position for an evangelical to occupy, so we
would need to pray for their personal security.


It's an ingenious theory. The two perceived disadvantages - of being black and having strong religious views - would seem almost to cancel each other out. Indeed, Trevor Phillips of the Equality Commission recently expressed the view - no doubt true - that the British people would "rather like" to vote for a black leader. Keeping up with the Obamas, as it were. Whether unambiguously expressed evangelical views would prove quite so attractive to the electorate is another matter. Tony Blair himself was concerned that, were the full extent of his religious motivation publicly exposed, people would conclude that he was "a nutter".

It also occurs to me that Mr Mann's ideal candidate already exists: the Rev George Hargreaves, a former record producer who has stood in numerous by-elections under the banner of the Christian Party. His evangelical credentials are indisputable, and he has even fronted a reality TV show, Channel 4's Make Me A Christian. Earlier this year he challenged David Davis in Haltemprice and Howden. He got 76 votes.

9 comments:

Rev Julian Mann said...

Dear Heresiarch, Thank you for your hospitality. I'd wanted to go secular with this one & you've given me a fair hearing.

George Hargreaves: 1). If he got 76, I doubt I'd get 7.

2). I did try to suggest that being the leader of a mainstream political party was a prerequisite for an evangelical.

3). His record-producing & TV background - I would have thought a background in starting/running a successful business & using an honest fortune for Christian philanthropy would be better. Harder to be dismissed as a nutter.

valdemar squelch said...

Racists - not all of them white - would of course vote against a black candidate, and white liberals wouldn't vote for a religious bigot of any colour. The evangelical thing - misogyny, homophobia, casting out demons, plus the denigration of other faiths, including every other Christian sect - would trump the race thing every time.

WeepingCross said...

I and a former Oxford Liberal once considered establishing the Puritan Party, which would campaign under the slogans 'It's For Your Own Good' and 'You May Not Thank Us in This Life', agitate for the repeal of Catholic Emancipation and the 1832 Reform Act, and fund a programme of public works by a Sex Tax, which would be the only over-collected self-reported tax in history: it couldn't fail. It was either that or stand as a Liberal Demagogue.

"The Parish Church of the Ascension is part of the Church of England, which, at its foundation, is a Bible-believing Church in the Reformed tradition." Funny, in my handout to my confirmands I state,
"The Church of England is both ‘Catholic’ and ‘Reformed’. It did not come into being at the Reformation in the 1500s, but is continuous with the Church of the Middle Ages and back through the centuries to the Apostles". Poor old Rowan.

I'd better stop this before I generate annoyance.

Olive said...

the office of
PM is clearly a dangerous position for an evangelical to occupy, so we
would need to pray for their personal security.


Does that mean that god thought Perceval wasn't a very good PM and allowed him to get assassinated, or that not enough people were praying for him not to get killed?

valdemar squelch said...

Yes, Olive, I wondered about that. I was under the impression Perceval was killed by someone who blamed him for financial shenanigans.

Also, H, would it really be a good idea to elect a religious fundamentalist at a time when we have over-centralised, control-freak government? 'Excuse me sir, can I see you ID card? Oh, atheist, eh? Right Vicar-Sergeant, deploy the Exorcism Tasers...'

Edwin said...

The Scottish Christian party did well in the Western Isles, coming 3rd behind SNP and Labour. Their campaign against Labour was an ugly one and probably cost Labour the seat, thus giving the SNP the majority at Holyrood.

Be warned, Christians can fight dirty!

valdemar squelch said...

Christians fighting dirty? Colour me unsurprised - I remember the Blessed Sarah Palin's implicit claim that blacks living in big cities aren't 'real Americans'.

Rev Julian Mann said...

Perceval was assassinated by a mentally unstable person, John Bellingham, who blamed his financial ruin and early confinement in a Russian debtors' prison on the British authorities (see William Hague, William Wilberforce, Harper Press, p397). So who was the 'nutter' in this instance?

Christians are promised that prayer offered to God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son is efficacious (cf 1 John 3v21-22) and indeed Christians are commanded to pray for political leaders (cf 1 Timothy 2v1ff) but prayer does not give us a licence to speculate about God's providential purposes.

To some extent I take Olive's point - whilst it would be important to pray for an evangelical PM's personal safety, it would be much more important to pray for his or her, and indeed our own, faithfulness to Christ. Given the manifest hatred for evangelicals in our culture, such faithfulness is likely to lead to dire consequences in this world though by God's grace not in the next.

JuJu said...

One of the two key agitators harassing the production of Jerry Springer: the Opera, George Hargreaves has campaigned politically almost exclusively on an antigay ticket, which while softly condemned when mentioned, has not attracted nearly the same media attention as Stephen Green (the other Jerry Springer protester), whose arrest for distributing homophobic pamphlets was gleefully covered all over the press.
Our image of intolerance is a middle aged white man, and that's who the media are happy to criticise. Perhaps because we associate bigotry with lack of education, levelling that accusation at a black man invokes uncomfortable stereotypes.