I’ve often been in debate, on panels, TV, radio or elsewhere, with those (Bishops, people from Christian lobby groups, Christian politicians) claiming to speak for that 70% of census Christians so it’s always interesting to find out what those self-defining ‘Christians’ actually think about the social and political issues on which religious leaders pontificate.
When we do find out, we often see a huge disconnect between their views and the views of those who claim to speak for them. A good example is assisted dying: polls from 2010 and earlier show over 70% of self-described Christians in favour of legalised assisted dying, but not a single Bishop in Parliament voted in favour of it.
Of course, most who ticked the Christian census box meant nothing religious at all by this self-identification (see my previous post) so in a sense we can’t complain that religious leaders and lobbyists are not representing their views accurately. Bishops et al could claim that they are really speaking for their actual believers, a much much much smaller crowd.
That’s fair enough but what they can’t do is have it both ways: either they are speaking for a small minority of actual committed believers or they can try to speak for the 70%, as they often claim they are doing, in which case they should take the trouble to find out what that 70% actually believes.
Among the things they are revealed as believing in today’s research are that gay people should have the same legal rights in all aspects of their lives as straight people (61%), women should have the right to abortion within the current time limit (62%), the law should apply to everyone equally, regardless of religion (92%) and religion should not have a special influence on public policy (73%).
Bad news for those who claim the support of the 70% in their campaigns to exemptions from equality laws, reductions in the abortion time limit, Bishops in the House of Lords, confessional education in state funded schools, keeping marriage for a man and a woman only, and generally giving religion a privileged place in public life.
There’s a lesson for politicians too: 78% of census Christians say Christianity has no, or not very much, influence on how they vote in General Elections. If they knew this, perhaps successive governments would have greater courage in standing up to powerful church lobbies in particular and pursuing policies that would give effect to the social and political morality of the fair-minded humane mainstream in Britain of which many census ‘Christians’ are a part.
(PS I believe that even many real believing religious Christians don’t support the policies of the lobbyists either. The vast majority – though obviously not all – not just of my Christian friends today but of all the Christians I have known have been more liberal, tolerant, humane and fair-minded than many of the institutions and organisations that claim to speak for them – I’d be interested to see more data on this.)