Chasing the ‘Christian vote’

Chasing the ‘Christian vote’ November 25, 2014

November saw the mid-term elections in the US and the Rochester by-election here in the UK. in both cases the subject of Christian voting has surfaced. This is no surprise in the US, the Christian vote has been a factor for a while and this has been highly organised when it comes to a right wing agenda through groups like the moral majority or more recently the Tea Party movement. So analysis by organisations like Reuters  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/27/us-usa-elections-evangelicals-idUSKBN0IG0RI20141027 and the Pew Forum  http://www.pewforum.org/2014/11/05/how-the-faithful-voted-2014-preliminary-analysis/ of how Christians voted is expected. White conservative Catholics and Evangelicals are Republican voters by and large. This is of course not all of the US Christian vote. I suspect those reading this blog are not exactly Tea Party supporters. A growing Hispanic population may affect the future demographic of Christian voting too.

In the UK however, there has not been the same sense of an organised Christian vote. whilst the Anglican Church has often been called the Tory Party at prayer, it often turns out to be Tory governments left wing opposition – at least that’s what the Conservative press thinks. Many European countries have a Christian party, usually right leaning, outside of Northern Ireland Britain hasn’t. Yet parties on the far right are trying to change this, perhaps with some affect. Back in 2009 the first to try this were the British National Party http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/ni/2009/05/would_jesus_vBNP Jesusote_for_the_bnp.html  complete with a ‘what would Jesus do’ poster. What the BNP sensed was that a growing number of Christians felt threatened by immigrants bringing in other religions to ‘Christian Britain’, especially Muslims. The BNP’s agenda is anti-immigration of those who are not white and English speaking and they saw the potential for common cause. the mainline churches acted swiftly to ban clergy from supporting the BNP who were very much perceived as a neo-fascist minority party.

The shape of far right politics in the UK has changed dramatically since 2009 with the rise of UKIP, the UK Independence Party. UKIP have insisted they are not a racist party, though there have been a number of resignations of party activists following public racist comments. Whatever the reality they have gained enough respectability to have just won their second by-election after a Tory MP, wonderfully named Mark Reckless, defected to UKIP forcing him to stand for re-election. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30140747 This growing success is clearly making politicians nervous in both of the largest parties as Conservatives and working class Labour voters switch to UKIP on a tide of ant-European and anti- immigrant feeling. so perhaps it’s not surprising that UKIP have recently launched their own ‘Christian Soldiers’ group to try and woo those who fear the loss of Christian Britain. http://christianityisnotleftwing.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/ukips-christian-soldiers.html The cUKIP Christian homelandrusader imagery is far from subtle, neither is the claim that the European Union is a Satanic organisation bent on destroying Christianity.  Some however are clearly attracted to this and at least some commentators think UKIP can create something of a consciously Christian right wing vote. http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/cameron-is-losing-christian-vote-to-ukip.html .

Is this the rise of something like the Tea Party? many of the agenda items would be recognized; right-wing views on welfare, immigration and state control; opposition to same-sex marriage and promotion of the ‘traditional family’.  The image however is very different. the Tea Party would not I think ever have a leader like UKIP leader Nigel Farage. one only has to look at someone like

Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachmann

Tea Party poster girl Michele Bachmann to realize she is not going to do most of her photo-shoots in a bar holding a drink in one hand and cigarette in the other. That however is exactly how Nigel Farage likes to pictured. Rather than a clean ‘Christian family’ image, Farage is the bloke in the pub, the guy with a cigarette who doesn’t like the smoking ban, the fellow who is always having a joke and being your mate. It is the clean cut public school Conservatives who would look OK on a Tea Party platform not

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage

Farage, save it’s the Conservatives who have just introduced same-sex marriage in the UK whilst their Prime-minister David Cameron insists he wants to defend Britain’s Christian character.  UKIP’s Christian soldiers don’t look like and English Tea Party, more like an English Beer party!

when I am speaking to Christian groups about this I still find most a horrified by UKIP’s attempt to gain a Christian vote, most but not all. there are a number who see a plot in government to force Christianity into hiding, banning the wearing of crosses, stopping people from praying and hounding out those who don’t support same sex marriage. these traditionally Tory voting Christians may well find UKIP speaking their language. If the BNP were so beyond the pale that Church leaders could ban clergy from supporting them, UKIP’s popularity will make that response far less likely. However successful UKIP are at attracting Christians it won’t have anything like the voter impact it does in the US.  But what affect will it have on Christians as they try to negotiate the rapidly decreasing profile of the churches in the UK? Those of us who do not want Christianity to head into a right wing ghetto will need to offer a robust and clear Christian alternative which can’t simply be an endorsement of the left-wing parties if we are not to find ourselves giving credence to the illusion of a strong right-wing Christian voice in the UK.

 

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