Sunday 27 November 2011

Friends in high places

Recent stories about links between Carmarthenshire County Council and a small number of fundamentalist evangelical Christian groups raise questions about the extent of their influence and their aims. This is not whacky conspiracy theory because, as we shall see, the groups themselves are quite open about what they are doing and some of their methods.

What is of concern here is not the voluntary work carried out by ordinary church members, but the overtly political aims of their leadership and the shadowy organisations these churches belong to.

Times have certainly changed. Nowadays the Trotskyists, Moscow-funded fronts and groups such as Militant Tendency have been replaced by a multitude of evangelical and fundamentalist Christian groups burrowing away in political parties and government at all levels. We have seen how sections of the Conservative Party have fallen under the sway of religious fundamentalists such as CARE, which is steadily growing its influence in the party through a self-perpetuating network of client MPs and interns.

Local government is also proving to be fertile soil for them in some areas. Unlike some of the reds under the bed of old, these groups are quite open about their aims, although often less than frank when it comes to funding and the operation of their "ministries". One example is an organisation called Gweini ("serving" in Welsh), of which Towy Community Church is a member.

Gweini, which also calls itself the Council of the Christian Voluntary Sector in Wales, is an umbrella organisation which is overtly political. Its aims are:

Representing…to all levels of government.
Networking… locally and nationally.
Informing… about funding and best practice.

The Gweini website gives quite a few tips on how to go about this. Here are two of them:
  • Setting up special charities works well for large projects, but for smaller ones it is often better to work under the radar using unincorporated associations, needing less paperwork and admin.  They can be multiplied as the work grows;
  • Use all the contacts you already have on the inside, e.g. Christians working in LAs [Local Authorities, ed.] with influence (ideally Chief Executives!);
 We are now entering a world which is every bit as complex as the most complex webs of trusts and companies so beloved of tycoons, with links to other organisations shooting out in all directions. Suffice it to say that Gweini was set up by CARE, an organisation with links to the American religious right, and which sees itself as a spearhead to influence government policy at all levels. It also issues "guidance" at election times, and encourages its adherents to stand for election or to campaign for favoured candidates.

CARE is a sophisticated organisation and is very careful in what it says on its website. Anyone wanting to know details such as CARE's view of Darwinian evolution, homosexuality, etc., is told to contact the organisation direct. But this is what they have to say about equalities legislation:

In recent years, however, equality legislation has begun to be unpacked in a way that is making life increasingly difficult for Christians subscribing to theologically mainstream and orthodox views.

Of course what CARE describes as mainstream and orthodox views would be regarded by many, including many truly mainstream Christians, as bigoted and extreme. In CARE's view of the world, people such as  Barry Morgan, Archbishop of the Church in Wales, would not be regarded as mainstream or orthodox.
A Gweini report tells us that only about 9% of people in Carmarthenshire regularly attend a place of worship, so that what we are talking about here is a minority within a tiny minority, but one which is beginning to exert a completely disproportionate influence over public policy.

But let's go back to those helpful tips. The choice of language in the first point about keeping projects "under the radar" is a little unfortunate, perhaps. But given the lack of visibility into Towy Community Church's finances, perhaps it is not just the small projects which are being kept under the radar.

Of course, there is nothing illegal about using contacts "on the inside, e.g. Christians working in Local Authorities with influence (especially Chief Executives!)" from the point of view of the churches themselves, but it should concern us all very much if powerful council officers were using their positions to further the interests of external pressure groups.

Normally the author of this blog would argue strongly that the religious beliefs and affiliations of someone such as the chief executive of a council are private and no concern of ours. But if those same beliefs and affiliations are determining council policy or major funding decisions, we have a right to know and a right to demand an end to this backdoor influence.


    Welsh Agenda said...

    Very good blog.

    I've seen the rise of evangelical influence in Wales for some time - someone even described Dyfed as the UK's bible belt - but had not realised how open they were in their tactics.

    As I argue on my blog, we need a Welsh version of the National Secular Society, or a devolved branch of the same to monitor and campaign on these trends.

    Jac o' the North, said...

    If local authorities are going to view such organisations as acceptable partners in the delivery of services, and the Welsh Government is also going to fund them, then I think we need to be very alert.

    For let's not forget that these people have an ulterior motive behind their do-gooding; on top of which they have a history of intolerance and brainwashing, breaking up families and causing exactly the same kind of problems they now seek public funding to alleviate.

    Anonymous said...

    This is a very important expose of a nasty group who seem hellbent on snaffling public money to preach their message of hate. Dalia ati, Cneifiwr!