Wednesday 13 June 2012

Demon Bloggers - When Evangelicals Attack (2)

Attacks from the Evangelical Alliance and Lapido Media were to be expected, but a rather more shocking onslaught came from the House of Commons, where an official all-party group calling itself Christians in Parliament produced a preliminary report in February entitled "Clearing the Ground" on the freedom of Christians in the UK.

The committee is made up of 3 Tory MPs, 2 Tory peers, one Lib-Dem peer and 2 Labour MPs, and  it set itself the task of deciding whether Christians are being marginalised in UK society. Given the membership of the committee, this was akin to asking a group of vegetarians to write a report to decide whether eating meat is good or bad.

Various people were called to give evidence, and the report directs those wishing to see the evidence to the official website of the Evangelical Alliance. Impartial and objective are not the first words to spring to mind, then.

Members of the committee include Gary Streeter MP (Con), Fiona Bruce MP (Con), David Burrows MP (Con), Gary Shuker MP (Lab) and Jim Dobbin MP (Lab). We need not spend much time on this assortment, except for a few snippets to give readers a flavour.
  • Gary Streeter has campaigned to have an Advertising Standards Authority ban on faith healing advertising lifted. He has demanded that the authority produce proof that healing through prayer does not work. Like his fellow MP David Burrowes, he uses CARE (Christian Action Research Education) interns.
  • Fiona Bruce says she is opposed to same-sex marriage "as a mother". Well, Fiona, the author of this blog thinks that allowing people of the same sex to marry is a good thing, "as a father".
  • David Burrowes has close links with CARE, and has an intern paid for by that organisation which campaigns and lobbies on a range of issues, including teaching creationism in schools and opposition to gay marriage and abortion.
  • Gary Shuker also thinks that adverts which claim prayer can heal should be allowed.
  • Jim Dobbin is opposed to gay marriage.
The committee's report includes the following piece about the Towy Community Church story:

Towy Community Church in Wales is working with the local council to develop a community
centre with a bowling alley and is due to receive a loan from the council to help fund this
development. Due to malicious stories on a blog, public pressure was placed on the council to
block the loan. It emerged that the church had made small donations to an American Christian
organisation that offers support for women with life-controlling issues – which include sexuality
issues. The publicity necessitated a full meeting of Carmarthen Council, who after investigation
re-stated their commitment to the church and the project. However, despite the outcome, the affair
reflects a widespread ignorance of what a Christian church is and does.

Eight lines, and in every line a serious error or evasion:

  • Notice that only a loan for an unspecified amount is mentioned.
  • Notice how Mercy Ministries is not mentioned by name, and the issue is spun to make it sound as though critics of the organisation are opposed to helping women.
  • The local authority involved was of course Carmarthenshire County Council, not Carmarthen Council.
  • The meeting was held to approve the loan because the council's previous funding package turned out to be inadequate. It had nothing to do with the bloggers or negative publicity.
  • The meeting did not investigate anything - there was no mention at all of the Mercy Ministries scandal.
Sad also to see that legitimate questioning and debate is described as "malicious".

What is shocking is that this is a parliamentary report which will be used to support changes in legislation and government policy. If the quality of evidence in other cases mentioned in the report is as unreliable as this, we all have cause to be concerned.

I wonder what Mrs Morgan, my old Sunday school teacher, would think. She always said that telling the truth was a Christian virtue.

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