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Thursday, 29 May 2008

They don't like it up 'em, Part II

Just as Catholics don't like to see criticism of their priests', ahem, more eccentric, er, shall we say, tendencies, such as kiddy-diddlng (see "They don't like it up 'em"), evangelicals don't like people to focus on their nutty side.

The outgoing leader of Britain's Evangelical Alliance, Joel Edwards, has urged programme makers not to focus on what he calls the "eccentric fringe" of evangelicalism, which he said was the focus of the recent Channel 4 documentary "In God's Name" – one of its Dispatches episodes – which examined the rise of fundamentalism in the UK.

The programme was chilling, and you can see what we made of it from the link above. But why should not programme makers go on about this "eccentric fringe" when, as we saw, it's this "eccentric fringe" that is allowed by our government and education authorities to get inside the heads of impressionable kids?

What Edwards didn't like according to Ekklesia, was the fact that the programme focused on such bonkers organisations as Christian Voice and the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship.

In an open letter to Channel 4, Edwards labels Stephen Green of Christian Voice an "extremist". He also says that Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship may have been "naïve and controversial", although, says Ekklesia, he went on to defend her actions as legitimate and transparent.

Well, they were legitimate in that they were legal; they were transparent in that she didn't hide what a nutter she came over as.

Anyway, for those interested, here is Edwards's letter in full, thoughtfully provided by Ekklesia:

I watched this week’s (May 19) Channel 4 Dispatches programme, In God’s Name, with a strong sense of disappointment.

Dispatches has a reputation for being selective and sensationalist, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been shocked. But as someone at the heart of the Christian community, I simply didn’t recognise the claims it made – echoed in the Sunday Telegraph – about a growing band of Christian fundamentalists trying to impose their will on society.

Stephen Green, a key example given of this fundamentalist movement, is an extremist. The vast majority of Christians who watched last night [19 May] would, like me, have recoiled in horror at some of the statements he made.

The kind of fundamentalism shown by Stephen is not growing in the UK. Unfortunately, the oxygen of publicity provided by the media has exaggerated his influence. What is increasing is a movement of evangelicals, which currently numbers around two million.

This group of people is hugely diverse, with a spectrum of political and theological leanings. Some, including Andrea Minichiello Williams, are active political citizens who lobby passionately on issues they believe are important for the public good. Christians are active on issues of poverty, debt, freedom of speech, the environment and more.

This is how a healthy democracy operates, and while Andrea may have been naïve and controversial in Dispatches, her actions were a legitimate and transparent part of the political process.

Dispatches is a hugely influential programme, so next time it tries to tackle modern Christianity, I would invite its producers to take an honest look at the full story rather than predicting a burgeoning trend on the actions of the eccentric fringe.

But it wasn't trying to "tackle" modern Christianity. What is there to "tackle". It's there, people go to church, people say grace, perhaps. No, it was one particular aspect of modern Christianity that it targeted. That was the whole point. No one was saying modern Christianity was all loonies and happy-clappy idiots, just this lot. And we mustn't forget that evangelicals are people who believe in the unerring authority of the Bible.

There is no mention in Edwards's letter, you will notice, of those schoolkids having young-earth creationism rammed into their skulls by a teacher who acted is if she were on something.

If they call themselves the Evangelical Alliance, then they're going to be seen as evangelists, who get tarred with the same brush as fundamentalists. Why don't they stop being evangelicals and just go to Evensong on Sunday and have tea and crumpets with the vicar at the whist drive, as any civilised, self-respecting British Anglican would do?

MEANWHILE: Another Christian group doesn't like the way the media are behaving. The Christian Broadcasting Council (CBC) has voiced concern over the portrayal of Christians and pro-life campaigners during recent coverage of their views on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The UK voted last week in favour of the creation of animal–human embryos for stem-cell research and “saviour siblings”, and threw out measures to lower the upper legal limit for abortion and to retain a reference to the need for a father for IVF children.

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