UKIP: The respectable face of the far right

Members of the United Kingdom Independence Party must be rubbing their hands with glee today. They’re the subject of the day’s leading news story. The Education Secretary has described them as “a mainstream party”. The Leader of the Opposition has effectively defended them. They’re being portrayed as victims of discrimination, despite their own discriminatory policies.

According to the story that broke this morning, foster carers in Rotherham had non-British children removed from their care because they are members of UKIP. This is the claim of the couple concerned. Rotherham Council’s statements seem less clear, suggesting that membership of UKIP influenced the decision, but implying it was not the only factor. They have spoken of the children’s cultural needs not being respected.

Our primary concern in all this must be the needs of the children. I do not know whether Rotherham Council were right to remove the children. I have not been involved in the case. I do not know the children; I do not know the foster carers; I do not know about all the issues involved. Nor, of course, do the many people who have rushed to condemn the council’s decision. These include Michael Gove, who has already described it as “the wrong decision”.

It is utterly inappropriate and unprofessional for the Education Secretary to comment on the rightness or wrongness of a fostering decision on the basis of media reports, without thoroughly investigating the details. It is comparable to the Home Secretary commenting on the guilt or innocence of someone who is in the middle of a criminal trial. Gove’s behaviour is the real scandal in this story.

I am not arguing that UKIP members should be barred from fostering children. I am not even arguing that UKIP members should be barred from fostering children who are not British. I am not arguing that Rotherham Council made the right decision. But I do believe that it is legitimate to take foster carers’ beliefs into account when considering the needs of children. For example, it would be inappropriate to place children from a Muslim family with foster carers who were prejudiced against Muslims.

UKIP are using this case to portray themselves as a reasonable, credible, non-racist party. The reality is that they are a far-right party. On many issues, their policies are comparable to the British National Party. It is true that they do not share the BNP’s focus on skin colour, but their policies are similar on issues including immigration, education, criminal justice and climate change. On economics, they are way to the right of the BNP, calling for all sorts of policies that would benefit the richt at the expense of the rest.

I do not make these claims lightly. Two years ago, I analysed the polices of both UKIP and the BNP. I had expected some similarities but I was genuinely shocked by the extent of them. The article I wrote as a result can be read here.

UKIP want to end all permanent immigration for five years, and severely restrict if after that. In their own words, they oppose multiculturalism. They would abolish the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the UN Convention on Refugees. Their education policy includes the teaching of a pro-imperial view of British history. They want to increase military spending by 40%, reduce taxes for the rich at the expense of the rest of us and force all unemployed people to work without pay in order to receive benefits. They are keen to double the number of people in prison. Unlike almost every other party in Britain, they want to discriminate against gay and bisexual people by denying marriage rights to same-sex couples. Until 2010, they wanted to make laws about what people were allowed to wear in public, by banning the niqab. Their attitude to the environment seems to be pure fantasy, based on the claim that climate change is not caused by humans.

I have come across many people who have voted UKIP because they oppose the European Union, but who are unaware of the rest of their policies. I have no doubt that some UKIP members are decent individuals. Indeed, I dare say that some of them would make good foster carers. I have no interest in encouraging personal hostility. But UKIP as a party is a far-right grouping with a twisted image of Britain, a strong stream of prejudice and policies that would benefit only the super-rich. I’m appalled that Michael Gove and Ed Miliband seem to be trying to claim otherwise.

Nick Clegg and the ‘bigots’: No apology necessary

I never thought I would write these words, but Nick Clegg has nothing to apologise for. That is, nothing to apologise about following the revelation that an early draft of one of his speeches referred to opponents of same-sex marriage as “bigots”. 

Of course, he has plenty of other things to apologise for: raising tuition fees, promoting “free schools” and “academies”, colluding with the Tories’ vicious cuts agenda that is destroying the livelihoods of millions of people. One of the few issues on which Nick Clegg seems to have kept to his commitments is same-sex marriage. And he does not need to apologise for accurately describing some (but not all) opponents of same-sex marriage as “bigots”.

There has been a ridiculous level of media interest in this story. It made the front page of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph this morning. Tory MP Peter Bone has suggested that Clegg should resign. Given the last British political scandal involving the word “bigot”, it’s surely only a matter of time before a journalist rushes round to Gillian Duffy to canvass her views on the issue. 

What makes this whole situation more absurd is that Clegg never used the word “bigots”. The word appeared in the text of a speech sent out by Clegg’s press officers to journalists ahead of its delivery. They later sent a different version (with “bigots” changed to “some people”). True, they are guilty of the incompetence of sending out the wrong version of a document (a mistake which many people, myself included, have been known to make). But the word was changed in the final version, suggesting that Clegg thought it inappropriate. He may even have been responsible for changing a word suggested by his advisors and speechwriters.

Had he used the word, it would have been accurate. I am not suggesting that all people who have a moral objection to same-sex marriage are bigots. However, those campaigning against legal recognition of same-sex marriage go further than simply disagreeing with it; they argue that the law should uphold their own view, rather than allowing space for it to be promoted in the context of free expression and democracy. However, I would not use the word “bigots” to describe all these people.

But some opponents of same-sex marriage are bigots. Those of us who campaign for marriage equality know full well the nastiness of some of the emails we receive. I am often accused of not being a ‘real’ Christian. The Keep Marriage Special campaign have said that same-sex marriage will lead to illegal immigration. Christian Voice have linked homosexuality with child abuse. A Liberal Democrat councillor in Scotland has said it could lead to humanity dying out. 

It’s worth remembering what Nick Clegg’s early speech draft said: 

“Continued trouble in the economy gives the bigots a stick to beat us with, as they demand we ‘postpone’ the equalities agenda in order to deal with ‘the things that people really care about’.”

In the changed version, the phrase “gives the bigots a stick to beat us with, as they demand… ” was changed to “leads some people to demand…”. 

This is a far more important point, which those calling for an apology are conveniently overlooking. Opponents of marriage equality are using the economic situation as an excuse to deny civil rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people. Some on the left have sadly also fallen for this argument, insisting that we should not campaign on marriage equality because we should be fighting the cuts. Instead, I suggest we need to resist all attempts to use the economic situation as an excuse for injustice, whether that be Ian Duncan Smith’s vicious attacks on the poorest people in society or Philip Hammond’s claim that same-sex marriage is not an important issue. 

Of course, we should engage in dialogue with people who have problems with same-sex marriage. I often have done, and will continue to do so. But that does not mean that we should allow a few right-wing Tories and homophobic lobby groups to frighten us into not naming bigotry for what it is. 

Sex, money and church attacks on governments

This week, several UK churches have been objecting to government attempts to redefine things.

On Tuesday, the Church of England attacked government plans to “redefine” marriage – i.e. to allow same-sex couples some of the same rights as mixed-sex couples.

On Thursday, the Baptist Union, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church (URC) made a joint statement criticising government plans to redefine poverty. David Cameron wants to measure poverty differently. Even the least cynical person in Britain must surely suspect that this is likely to result in statistics showing a lower level of poverty.

None of these churches are wholly united behind these statements. The Church of England statement triggered protests from its own members, especially given the scaremongering warnings about the danger to church-state relations. Some individual Methodists, Baptists and URC members object to their churches’ recent tendency to issue left-wing statements on economics.

The difference here is not only between one denomination and another. It’s also between comments on marriage and comments on economics, and between reactionary statements and progressive ones.

Which of those distinctions affected the media response is open to debate. The Church of England was making headline news on Tuesday. It was a rare case of a religious story being on the front page of at least three national newspapers. In contrast the statement on poverty doesn’t seem to have led to even the smallest article in any national paper.

Much of the public – especially this week – have understandably got the impression that Christian Churches are fall of reactionaries obsessed by sex. If we want people to notice the radical political and economic views that many British Christians now hold, we have to speak about them more loudly, and more effectively. The media also need to be more aware of what’s really going on in British Christianity. They need to notice Christians saying surprising things – about money as well as sex.

CofE and same-sex marriage: Serving society or protecting privilege?

The Church of England have today issued their formal response to the government’s consultation on same-sex marriage. They had a great opportunity to acknowledge the diversity of views within their own ranks and to move on from the defensive tone that characterises so many Christian contributions to debates over sexuality.

It is an opportunity that they have completely missed.

There is very little sign of originality or creative thinking in the CofE’s statement. It relies heavily on old, and largely discredited, arguments, to push its opposition to government plans to allow legally recognised civil marriage ceremonies in England and Wales.

The CofE’s central argument is the same one used by most other opponents of marriage equality – and it is equally unconvincing. This is the claim that the government is “redefining” marriage, which has been “always and exclusively between a man and a woman”.

Marriage has meant many different things in many different cultures. Very few British Christians would now argue for arranged marriage, let alone forced marriage or marriage while still of childhood age. Yet all these practices have been normal for Christians in certain times and places. When the Married Women’s Property Act was passed in 1882, critics claimed that it was an attack on the sanctity of marriage. Similar claims were made when laws were introduced to protect women from domestic violence and rape (indeed, Stephen Green of the right-wing fundamentalist group Christian Voice still claims that marriage has been undermined by the law that bans men from raping their wives). As a friend of mine put it more bluntly recently, “The fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow suggests that we have already redefined marriage”.

The reality is that on many occasions marriage has been about money. As David Graeber points out in his recent history of money and debt, this has worked in several ways. “Brideprice” has involved a man making a payment to his new wife’s father. The opposite system is that of dowries in which the father makes a payment to the groom. In the UK today, money-based approaches to marriage are still strong. They are preserved symbolically in the appalling practice of the bride being “given away”. More alarmingly, they are very visible through the hugely profitable wedding industry. The average cost of a wedding in the UK is now roughly equivalent to the average annual income.

Thankfully, marriage has never been solely about money. Jesus shocked his listeners with his comments on marriage. In a time when only men could initiate divorce – often throwing their wives into social disgrace and even poverty – he criticised casual divorce. In a culture that blamed women for giving men lustful thoughts, he encouraged people to take responsibility for how they dealt with their own thoughts, and be aware of what they did in their hearts.

In other words, Jesus challenged relationships based on power and money in favour of relationships based on love, equality and self-control. It might be said that he redefined marriage.

The second major argument in today’s statement is the claim that men and women are fundamentally different. It speaks of the “biological complentarity” of men and women. Marriage, it argues, “embodies the… distinctiveness of men and women”. It states, “To argue that this [difference] is of no social value is to assert that men and women are simply interchangeable individuals”.

The Church of England leadership do not seem to have noticed the reality, diversity and uniqueness of the human beings they are called to serve. Of course, the writers of this document may well have major problems with transgender and genderqueer people. Disgracefully, the document doesn’t even mention the government’s proposal to scrap the outrageous practice by which a married person who transitions gender automatically has their marriage dissolved. But no-one can deny the reality of intersex people – those who are born without a clearly identifiable biological sex. This includes people whose genitalia do not “fit” with social categories, as well as those whose chromosomes do not “match” their genitals. About one in every 2,500 people are born intersex. Has the Church of England nothing to say about them, let alone to them?

As the theologian Susannah Cornwall points out, the significance of intersex goes beyond its statistical frequency. It disrupts any attempt to fit men and women into simplistic binary categories.

In the past, people argued against mixed-race marriage on the grounds that people of different races are fundamentally different. The vast majority of people in this country would now find such a claim to be morally and intellectually abhorrent. I hope the time will come when we are just as appalled when the claim is applied to people of different genders.

The CofE’s statement includes more scaremongering about the possibility of churches facing legal action for not carrying out same-sex weddings. This is extremely unlikely (not least because almost everyone campaigning for marriage equality respects the right of faith groups to make their own decisions on it). Further, it is only an issue because the Church of England is an established church. This position gives it both privileges and legal responsibilities. If top Anglicans want to have more freedoms, they need to give up their privileges.

Nonetheless, I’m more than ready to agree that one the CofE have a point in one aspect of their response. They suggest that the government’s plans, and the discussion around them, have given the impression that the law recognises two forms of marriage, “civil” and “religious”. In reality, this refers only to a type of ceremony, not to the legal status of the relationship.

Unfortunately, the CofE’s statement does not offer a solution to this confusion other than to try to keep things as they are. But marriage laws are already complicated, confusing and easily misunderstood. It is not proposals for same-sex marriage that are mixing things up. Not only do same-sex couples have different legal rights to mixed-sex couples, but different religious groups have different entitlements when it comes to the authority to perform legally recognised weddings. For example, the law that allows Quakers to carry out their own weddings dates back to the Marriage Act of 1753. It has barely been updated since. The Quakers are one of the groups now seeking the right to carry out same-sex marriages. The government plans to deny them this right, which they will restrict to civil ceremonies, thus making the system even more complicated and discriminatory.

To deal with all this, we need a thorough overhaul of marriage law to recognise the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society. A government consultation aimed at such an overhaul would be a courageous and welcome step indeed.

At the Ekklesia thinktank, we have long argued that celebrating marriage and making commitments should be separated from the (arguably less important) process of gaining legal recognition. This would mean that people could carry out ceremonies with personal, social and – if important to them – religious significance, with legal registration being a separate process. This would allow supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage to act on their beliefs, to promote them, to publicise them and to seek to persuade others, without being able to use the law to enforce their views on those who disagree.

The CofE’s statement makes the frankly offensive claim that “almost all other churches” regard marriage as a union of a man and a woman. It might have been more accurate to say “most”. In the UK, churches that recognise same-sex marriage now include the Metropolitan Community Church, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. The United Reformed Church will be discussing the issue at their General Assembly next month. There are calls amongst Baptists for each church and minister to be allowed to make up their own mind on the subject. There is significant support for same-sex marriage within the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and indeed within the Church of England itself, as well as from smaller numbers in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

The statement makes no acknowledgement of the range of views within the Church of England’s own ranks. In talking about what “churches” believe, rather than what Christians believe, it seeks to uphold the authority of a privileged establishment, rather than to recognise the Holy Spirit’s movements amongst millions of believers – and unbelievers. While some church leaders are determined to resist change, other Christians seek, however imperfectly, to be at the forefront of it. Thankfully, we don’t need to rely on hierarchies. In the Church as well as in society, change comes from below, not from above.

Polyamory and the Holy Spirit

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” insisted the apostle Paul (Galatians 5,1). It’s not a message that Christians have always been keen to hear. We’ve rushed to impose rules, set up structures, fit people into categories. Too often we’ve turned the good news of freedom into bad news of legalism.

How do we make ethical decisions as Christians? The New Testament does not, on the whole, encourage us to obey rules. While it is positive about the value of the Hebrew law, it makes clear that Christ has fulfilled the law and that we have been given God’s Holy Spirit to move in our hearts and guide us.

If you are guided by the Spirit you will not fulfil the desires of your lower nature,” wrote Paul to the Galatians (5,16 NEB). In John Henson’s translation, this verse declares that if the Spirit’s in charge “you don’t need rules”.

Such freedom has been too great for Christians to bear – either as individuals or as a community. Throughout Christian history, there have been people who have looked back at these verses and spoken of what they mean for human dignity and equality. The Digger leader Gerard Winstanley was one. He wrote in 1649 that “the same spirit that made the globe dwells in man” to be “his teacher and ruler within himself”.

This sounds impossible. Is God really inviting us to live freely, guided by the Holy Spirit? It sounds like a licence for chaos and selfishness.

Of course, it can very easily be used in this way. Anyone can claim that the Holy Spirit has led them to do something which is simply what they want to do anyway. But let’s not forget that rules can work the same way. Rules often benefit those who came up with them, and this has been as true in the Church as elsewhere.

Seeking the Spirit’s guidance is a challenging, time-consuming, exhausting, sometimes painful process. The Spirit may guide someone in a particular way quite suddenly. But more often than not it takes considerable effort to get used to the Spirit’s voice. Or so I believe – for I am still not used to that voice. My communications with God are often painful and frustrating, as well as liberating and comforting. Sometimes I feel my effort gets no result. But all too often, I have not really made the effort. I suspect I will be more likely to find guidance in a particular moment of need if I build up my prayerful, careful awaiting for the Spirit’s voice. I need to put in a lot more time and effort.

This is the paradox. For me, freedom from rules becomes possible – or at least more likely – when I develop the discipline of listening for the Holy Spirit.

This will mean different things for different people – otherwise it would just be a new set of rules! But the Bible gives us plenty of clues about what we can expect from decisions made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – whether or not we use that sort of language.

In contrasting the Spirit with the law, Paul wrote that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. He adds, “There is no law against such things” (Galatians 5,22-23).

The law of the Spirit is the law of love. It stands in contrast both to living by rules and to the culture of “anything goes”.

I’ve been reflecting on this lately as I’ve been discussing Christian attitudes towards polyamory.

The word “polyamory” describes honest and faithful relationships involving more than two people. This may be a group of, say, three or four people who are committed to each other in a sexually exclusive way in the same way as a monogamous couple. Or it may involve honestly and openly having more than one partner, approaching all relationships with sensitivity and love to ensure that all involved are fulfilled and not harmed.

Of course, polyamory can be abused. So can marriage. Of course, people get hurt. This also happens in monogamous relationships. But can polyamorous relationships be rooted in the law of love as much as monogamous ones?

I don’t see why not. Polyamory is very different to adultery. In adultery, the love that is shown to one person is undermined by the harm and deceit demonstrated towards another.

Jesus upheld the value of marriage. But he challenged common attitudes in his society, insisting that a man should not divorce his wife on a whim. Remember, this was in a culture in which only a man could initiate a divorce, throwing his wife into social disgrace and often poverty.

Marriage in our society is very different to marriage as it existed in Jesus’ time. For example, in terms of the age of the participants and the economic considerations involved.

How do we apply Jesus’ same values of love, respect and equality in our own context? Of course, we can – and should – uphold monogamous marriages that display those values. But let us also pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we seek to apply those values just as firmly in other sorts of relationships.

We shall know the reality of those relationships by the fruits they produce. I have seen several polyamorous relationships that produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I thank God for them

New Dean of St Paul’s defends eviction

I admire David Ison, who was appointed Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral earlier this week, for speaking up for same-sex marriage in his first national media interview after being appointed. I’m sorry that he ruined it within days by defending the forced eviction of Occupy London Stock Exchange in language that manages to be both evasive and insulting.

He has yet to take up his post at St Paul’s and was not, of course, appointed when the Cathedral colluded in the violent removal of people who were peacefully sitting or praying on the cathedral steps. At least he has had the courage to express an opinion on the issue. The current authorities at St Paul’s have failed to do despite nearly two weeks in which large numbers of people have urged them to make a clear statement on the issue.

Asked about the eviction by the Church Times, Ison said, “It’s difficult what you do when people refuse to acknowledge reality and to obey court orders. But, if people choose to make a demonstration by not obeying the order of the court, that’s up to them. The Church’s role is to help people recognise reality in all sorts of ways, and that includes helping Occupy recognise when it’s time to move on.”

The new Dean is running the risk of appearing deliberately evasive. He must surely be aware of the reality that the cathedral steps were not covered by the court order, which authorised an eviction of land belonging to the City of London Corporation, not to St Paul’s Cathedral.

I also find it rather arrogant to be told that views that do not fit with David Ison’s are not “reality”. In theological terms, sin and selfishness can be seen as resulting from our alienation from the reality that is found in God. We are all more detached from that reality than we should be. In contrast, David Ison appears to be equating “reality” with the perceptions and priorities of those who hold power in the world. This may not be his intention, but that is how it comes across.

I hope the new Dean will also challenge the City of London and its institutions to recognise the reality of an economic crash built on fantasies of endless money. There is no reality in the false gods of money and markets, which are merely human constructions.

Sentamu confuses dictatorship with democracy

The Archbishop of York made the front page of the Daily Telegraph yesterday by saying that David Cameron would be acting “like a dictator” if he introduced legislation to recognise same-sex marriage.

The archbishop, John Sentamu, knows more about dictatorship than most of us, having been imprisoned in Uganda under Idi Amin. It is therefore particularly saddening that he should lower himself to this sort of insult over marriage law.

Cameron last year promised same-sex civil marriage in England and Wales by 2015. He is not even considering granting legal recognition to religious same-sex marriage, despite the many religious people who would welcome it.

This is hardly a major part of the coalition’s programme. It appears to have been introduced as a sop to the Liberal Democrats. The Scottish government is moving much more quickly on the question. Despite the speed which the coalition can slash disabled people’s benefits and treble tuition fees, it seems that the next step towards marriage equality has to wait for four years.

Sentamu and his allies are entitled to promote their view that same-sex marriage is wrong. Both within the Christian Church and within society as a whole, people should be free to express their views on marriage. I want religious groups to be able to carry out ceremonies they believe in, without being forced to carry out ceremonies they don’t believe in.

This would mean that those faith groups that believe in same-sex marriages could celebrate them, while those that don’t believe in them would not have to. Both could promote their positions and seek to persuade others to believe in them. This is religious liberty.

It is sad that so many people who profess a belief in democracy – such as John Sentamu – will not accept this situation. They want to use the law to impose their view on marriage, which suggests that they doubt their ability to uphold this view without the force of law behind them. It is a curious fact that many opponents of same-sex marriage concentrate on preventing legal recognition rather than making ethical arguments against it. In contrast, none of the groups campaigning in favour of same-sex marriage want to force churches or other faith groups to carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies against their will.

We should be having important ethical, social and theological debates about the nature of marriage. This is hampered when some of those involved in these debates persistently demand that the law sides with their own position, instead of engaging in discussion in a context of democracy and religious freedom.

Sex and the Spirit – a chance to explore major issues

Places are still available on an upcoming weekend course exploring sexuality and spirituality. The course, Sex and the Spirit, will take place in Birmingham from 10th-12th February.

I will be co-tutoring on the course, which is open to people of all views and sexualities who are willing to learn from each other. I know I’ll be learning lots too!

Amongst other things we will be exploring sexuality’s relationship with God, gender, power, worship, identity, marriage and ethics.

While the course takes place at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, it is not exclusively Quaker and we will not be assuming that participants have a Quaker background or Quaker beliefs. We will draw on Quaker theology as well as other Christian traditions and ideas from elsewhere. The experiences and views of participants will be a major source of learning and inspiration.

Discounts: If you’re 30 or under, you can go half-price by booking along with someone else who is also 30 or under. Even if there are a whole group of you of that age booking together, you can all pay half-price.

Woodbrooke is a really friendly place of spiritual community, with excellent accommodation, beautiful grounds and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

More information is available here.

If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a shout at symonhill@gmail.com.

Wallace Benn withdraws endorsement of pro-rape booklet

Wallace Benn, the Church of England’s Bishop of Lewes, has today withdrawn his endorsement of a booklet by the fundamentalist campaigner Stephen Green. He issued a statement after several bloggers drew attention to his endorsement yesterday.

The booklet, Britain in Sin, advocates the legalisation of rape within marriage and the criminalisation of sexual relations between people of the same sex.

As I pointed out in my blog yesterday, Green’s revamped website includes an endorsement from Benn, in which the bishop says, “This makes interesting and disturbing reading”. The booklet opposes the welfare state, a legal right for equal pay for men and women, the UK’s membership of the United Nations and power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

Today, I received a message from Wallace Benn’s office in which he made the following statement:

Having now read the contents of this booklet in full I want to completely and absolutely dissociate myself from it.”

Benn’s statement implies that he endorsed the booklet without reading it all. It remains unclear which part of it he thought worthy of endorsement, but I’m still willing to give him credit for the rapid withdrawal of his remarks. I have asked his communications officer if he has asked Stephen Green to remove the endorsement from his website.

However, I find it sad that the bishop’s statement does not include any expression of apology, or of regret for any upset or offence he may have caused.

CofE bishop endorses booklet that promotes marital rape

A Church of England bishop has recommended a booklet that supports the legalisation of rape within marriage and the criminalisation of same-sex relationships.

The booklet, by Stephen Green of Christian Voice, is called Britain in Sin. While it was written a few years back, Green’s revamped website now includes an endorsement of it by Wallace Benn, the Suffragen Bishop of Lewes.

It is sad but not surprising that Green’s band of fundamentalists should support policies of this sort. What is more alarming is that Benn should endorse them.

Britain in Sin argues that the UK has declined spiritually, morally and socially due to the abandonment of Christianity since the mid-twentieth century. In the booklet,Green lists government decisions which he regards as contrary to the Ten Commandments, beginning with the UK’s membership of the United Nations in 1945.

The booklet opposes a legal right to equal pay for men and women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Green supports the death penalty and advocates an extremely right-wing approach to economics, with heavy cuts to the welfare state and the abolition of all inheritance tax. It implies that adultery should be a criminal offence.

A section of the Christian Voice website is devoted to Britain in Sin. It includes the following quote from Wallace Benn:

This makes interesting and disturbing reading. We desperately need to understand, as a nation, that our Creator knows what is best for us, and to return to His way as the best way to live.”

There are also endorsements from Paul C. Weaver, the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God (who calls it “a helpful and challenging resource”) and Barry Ashbourne, a hereditary peer, former army officer and stockbroker (“the list of unrighteous laws passed during the last fifty years is particularly helpful”).

They are joined by John Graham, chair of Protestants Today (“this well-produced and scholarly publication”) and Ray Borlase of Intercessors for Britain (“a valuable resource”).

It is of course possible to endorse a book without agreeing with every point made in it. But this booklet’s overall approach of vicious misogyny is morally repugnant. Its views on the legality of marital rape, same-sex relationships and unequal pay are entirely consistent with its other points, even if the latter seem slightly less extreme. Furthermore, none of those endorsing it appear to have gone out of their way to specify the points with which they agree or disagree.

Benn is a prominent voice among conservative evangelicals and on some issues may well be more conservative than any other Church of England bishop. It is no surprise that he argues that same-sex relationships are unethical. I fully respect his right to make this argument, however strongly I disagree with it. But it is one thing to believe that something is unethical, quite another to argue that it should be illegal. I am sometimes accused of being unduly critical of Church of England bishops. But even I thought that we were past the point at which a bishop might defend the “right” of a man to force himself on his wife.

To be fair to Wallace Benn, it is possible that he never made this comment and that Stephen Green is misleading us. In which case, Benn should say so and demand that Green remove the comment from his website instantly. To be charitable to Benn, it is possible that he did not read the booklet before endorsing it, or that he made the comment some time ago and has now changed his mind. If this is the case, Benn needs to publicly and clearly withdraw his endorsement.

At the very least, we are entitled to clear statements from Wallace Benn about his views on rape law, rape within marriage, equal pay legislation, the legality of same-sex relationships and the welfare state. Benn risks losing all claim to be taken seriously, particularly on questions of gender and sexual ethics, if he does not disassociate himself from this booklet very quickly.