I've just been revisiting some reports of the hustings organised a few days ago by the Evangelical Alliance for the London mayoral candidates. Livingstone, the current Mayor of London, was accused by born-again-Christian candidate Brian Paddick, standing for the Lib Dems, of treating Christians like second-class citizens. Well, you might expect that from a Christian, especially a born-again Christian, especially in a political situation where people are grubbily chasing votes.
But here's the rub. In this story in the online Religious Intelligence (is that not an oxymoron?), Livingstone says in response to an accusation of bias against churches applying for planning permission, "The only group that’s been moved from the Olympic site that we’ve not been able to rehouse is a Christian church after the local council opposed it, so I shall have to amend the London Plan to say that faith groups looking for a base should be able to get land."
Well, we've come to expect politicians to say one thing to one group and one thing to another, but the Evangelical Alliance is a pretty large and influential group, poking its nose in wherever it can, always with an opinion, getting more than its fair share of airtime on radio, and it will no doubt hold Livingstone to his word if he gets back in after the elections. Which means that he will amend a plan so that "faith" groups get special dispensation when they're looking for land on which to build churches. He will deprive the people of London of land that could be put to better use so that a church can be built there? And given priority? Over what could well be more pressing demands?
Of course, it being a Christian occasion, the question of "the family" had to be brought up (as if only religionists cared about or had experience of families, family life, bringing up children), and in this case by the Christian Choice candidate Alan Craig, who says he'll provide a £1,000 grant for every couple who get married in London (he means opposite-sex couples, since the word "married" does not, by law, apply to civil partnerships; although, thankfully, most people happily ignore that bit of government bigotry and just call themselves married).
The story says, "Mr Craig also criticised the candidates’ ability to produce progress on the family issues he believes to be of prime importance, due to their own family lives." This, we assume, is a reference to, inter alia, Brian Paddick, the former police commander and once the most senior openly gay cop in Britain.
"I don’t think you can take someone’s private life and their private views away from their public life and their public views," says Craig. "It will make it very different for them to talk about the value of marriage and stable families and there is absolutely no doubt that that is a key issue. The breakdown of family is having a key impact, it’s ravaging our society. But it is difficult for them, because of their private lives, to talk about it with great authority or commitment."
Paddick is himself a Christian – a born-again, to boot. He hasn't suddenly "found" God for the sake of the Christian vote. He became a born-again back when he was a sergeant, and says in his recent memoir, Line of Fire (Simon & Schuster, 2008):
Following the encounter with Malcolm [a born-again-Christian friend], I read John’s Gospel with an open mind and I was convinced. A short time later I found myself at Cheam Baptist Church being baptised by total immersion by Pastor David Abernethy.
Well, some people are easily swayed, but there you go. Anyway, he said to the hustings meeting, "As far as Christian values are concerned I think if people who do not believe in Jesus Christ borrow Christian values then we should encourage them to do so and I think that there are many things which people give the label Christian values to that are actually shared by other religions as well."
Borrow Christian values? They do what he and probably most of us consider generally good things, moral and noble things – helping our neighbour, seeing old ladies across the street, running a youth club (as Paddick once did) or performing other voluntary work, giving money, patting dogs – and he says we're borrowing Christian values? Or is that just that those of "other religions as well" dare to "borrow Christian values"?
Hat-tip Freethinker. And see more on the all-singing, all-dancing London Elections Show here.