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UK/USA: Christian ‘reactionaries’ mark 10 years of lobbying against women’s and LGBT rights

Saturday 10 November 2018, by siawi3


UK Christian ‘reactionaries’ mark 10 years of lobbying against women’s and LGBT rights

Adam Bychawsk

25 October 2018

At Christian Concern’s birthday party in London, lobbyists talked about their expansion plans and work to recruit young people.

Religious fruitcake: Christian Concern celebrated their tenth anniversary over the weekend. Image: Adam Bychawski - The scene at the tenth-anniversary celebration of anti-abortion, anti-LGBT lobbyists Christian Concern was a far cry from a typical religious service.

The evangelical organisation, one of the largest in the UK, hired a Grade II listed building a stone’s throw away from Parliament Square in London for the occasion last Saturday. At a drink’s reception in the building’s marble foyer, prosecco and canapés were served by waiters to hundreds of guests – including a MP and a member of the House of Lords – under the watchful eye of security guards.

The celebratory atmosphere reflected the group’s growth over the last decade. In 2008, Christian Concern comprised a handful of religious conservatives and, as its chief executive Andrea Williams admitted in a video posted online, it was struggling to pay its staff. Promotional material at the event listed its total expenditure as £1.9m last year.

Over the weekend, it marked a decade of public campaigning and legal support for conservative Christian beliefs in the UK, lobbying against reforms including liberalised abortion laws, LGBT anti-discrimination legislation, more inclusive sex education, same-sex marriage and an easier gender recognition process for trans people.

It marked a decade of lobbying against reforms including liberalised abortion laws, more inclusive sex education and same-sex marriage.

In her keynote speech, Williams said Christian Concern, which boasts an 80,000-strong mailing list, was recently asked by an unnamed MP for help in campaigning against a bill proposing to decriminalisation abortion which would in particular overturn the current regime in Northern Ireland, where abortion is illegal in almost all circumstances.

In a promotional video for the celebration, Williams states that Christian Concern has grown to around 25 employees. Outlining her vision for the organisation’s future Williams said: “I want to double because that’s what’s needed in the time to come.”

Between speeches from Christian Concern’s senior figures, attendees were shown short films. One illustrated the “social revolution” that has swept the nation through clips of news reports about proposals for civil partnerships, compulsory sex education, no-fault divorce bills, and an interview with a trans teenager and her mother.

The Conservative Party was specifically singled out with clips of David Cameron backing gay marriage and Theresa May denouncing gay conversion therapy as “an abhorrent practice”. Christian Concern call attempts to ban such therapy “pernicious”.

Among the attendees were DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson and House of Lords life peer Baroness Caroline Cox, both of whom have consistently voted against LGBT rights and same-sex marriage legislation. Michael Nazir-Ali, a former Anglian Bishop with a track record of offensive remarks about homosexuality and Muslims, was also there.

He told attendees in a speech that gay marriage will lead to ‘legalising incest’.

Nazir-Ali told attendees in a speech that gay marriage will lead to “legalising incest”. He also said: “Someone once said to me that Christian Concern is reactionary, well we do have to react if lies are being told in our streets and in our newspapers, we do have to react. If that means being reactionary, so be it.”

The subject of trans rights was mentioned several times, prompting the shaking of heads in the audience. Christian Concern is one of several UK Christian conservative organisations that have recently filed submissions opposing proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for trans people to change their legal gender.

Carys Moseley, a former university theology lecturer, and now policy researcher for Christian Concern, has written that being transgender is a “psychiatric disorder” and implied that transgender women are sex offenders.

She also contributed to a collection of essays published by a division of Christian Concern titled The New Normal: The Transgender Agenda. Other contributors include an American college teacher who calls same-sex parenting “child abuse” and American conservative spokesperson Robert Oscar Lopez who describes himself as “anti-gay” and has previously written that the LGBT rights movement is a “world-historical evil”.

‘Thousands of people come through our offices’.

Aside from public campaigning, Christian Concern’s sister organisation, the Christian Legal Centre, have offered legal support in a number of court cases challenging anti-discrimination and equality laws.

Williams told attendees “thousands of people come through our offices”. A promotional pamphlet said the group spent almost half a million pounds on legal cases in 2017.

Andrea Williams, Christian Concern’s chief executive said she wanted to “double” the organisation. Image: Adam Bychawski

A short film highlighting a few of these cases included Mike Davidson, who approached Christian Concern for help after the British Psychodrama Association revoked his membership for providing therapy for “unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Another featured case was that of Ian Sleeper, a street preacher who was arrested for displaying a placard with the message “Love Muslims, Hate Islam”. In a Christian Concern press release, Sleeper said "My hope is for the world to rid itself of Islam”.

A running theme in the evening’s speeches was concern at the lack of young people in the Church of England. Indeed, a 2017 British Social Attitudes survey revealed a growing lack of religiosity among the young, with 70% of those aged 18–24 now saying they have no religion – a 56% increase from 2002. Only 2% identified as Anglican.

The congregation at the event appeared to be mostly middle-aged aside from a number of young volunteers and families with infants.

An urgent need ‘to build the next generation’.

Williams spoke of the urgent need “to build the next generation” and said that 500 young people have attended its week-long training camp, Wilberforce Academy, where speakers have included Sam Soloman, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity, who also spoke at this weekend’s event and is the group’s “Islamic affairs advisor”.

Soloman previously drafted UKIP’s “charter of Muslim understanding” in 2014 – which was also shared online by Christian Concern. It proposed that Muslims should sign a special code of conduct rejecting violence.

A previous Wilberforce Academy attendee told me that Soloman once led a session on Islam in which students were taught that Muslims were “breeding” ten times as fast as the rest of the population and that much of the UK is following Sharia law.

Students were also given lectures by Canadian pastor Joe Boot who taught them that the impact of climate change is overstated and effects to reduce carbon emissions will simply lead to more poverty. Boot has called catastrophic climate change “a myth” and environmentalism “indoctrination in service of a wider political and religious agenda”.

The evening’s speeches were rounded off with a video that painted a clear picture of the growing reach and international coordination of the Christian right.

It featured senior figures from South Africa’s Freedom of Religion who said they “would probably not exist but for the help and support we’ve had from [Christian Concern]” as well as Family Voice Australia, the Bread of Life Ethiopian Church and the South Korean Esther Prayer Movement, which has links to the International House of Prayer.

In her closing remarks about what lies ahead for Christian Concern, Williams said: “We need to build a visible church, a church that is vocal and visible in the public space that the authorities will take care of. We are going nowhere”.



‘Gay cake’ cases show strength of Christian right legal armies on both sides of the Atlantic
Nandini Archer and Claire Provost 11 October 2018

In UK and US supreme courts, freedom of speech has been the defence of bakers who oppose same-sex marriage. It’s no coincidence.

Ashers bakery owners outside the UK Supreme Court. Ashers bakery owners outside the UK Supreme Court. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved. The owners of Ashers bakery in Northern Ireland, who refused to make a cake with the words ‘support gay marriage’ on it, won their appeal at the UK Supreme Court this week. The court ruled unanimously that this refusal was not discriminatory.

A spokesperson for the UK LGBT rights group Stonewall said the ruling was “a backward step for equality” which may be used “to justify even more discrimination at a time when LGBT people still face exclusion, abuse and discrimination every day.”

In a similar case earlier this year, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of a Christian baker in Colorado, whose Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the ’gay cake’ cases used freedom of speech and conscience arguments to defend the bakers, who oppose same-sex marriage. Rights activists warn the verdicts could set new precedents for when businesses can discriminate against customers.

But what else do the two cases have in common? They show the strength of organised and internationally connected Christian legal armies with growing track records of successfully defending opponents of sexual and reproductive rights in US, UK and other courts.

But what else do the two cases have in common? Increasingly organised and internationally connected Christian legal armies.

In the US Supreme Court case, the plaintiff, baker Jack Phillips, had been successfully sued in Colorado after he refused to bake the cake for a gay couple in 2012.

He was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), described as an anti-LGBT “hate group” by the Southern Law Poverty Center.

In the UK case, the Belfast bakery owners received a £500 damages award from their county court after they refused to bake the cake in that case, in 2014.

They were supported by the Newcastle-based Christian Institute – a group that’s been described as an “allied organisation of ADF International,” ADF’s global wing, which also opened an office in London last year.

On Twitter, ADF called this week’s UK Supreme Court decision “a great win for freedom”, while the Christian Institute referred to it as “thrilling news,” stating that “equality laws cannot be used to make people say things they don’t believe. That has always been our position.”

Previously, the two groups supported the case of a London registrar who refused to officiate for same-sex civil partnerships. The Christian Institute supported that case throughout, while ADF submitted legal arguments once it reached the European Court of Human Rights.

Sharing cake. Photo: Flickr/Loewyn Young. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Some rights reserved. Same-sex marriage was legalised gradually in the US, starting with Massachusetts in 2004. In 2015, it was legalised nationwide as the result of a Supreme Court ruling.

In the UK, Northern Ireland is the only part of the country where same-sex marriage isn’t legal. A bill to change this was blocked from moving to the next stage in the UK parliament earlier this year.

What good are rules and regulations if they are treated as ’opt-in’ by religious believers?

Internationally, freedom of speech, religion and conscience arguments are increasingly being used by conservative groups to challenge anti-discrimination and equality laws.

“Cases like these, funded by large and wealthy Christian lobby groups, taken up as an attempt to fan the flames of a culture war, are becoming far too frequent,” Liam Whitton from the charity Humanists UK told us, asking: “What good are rules and regulations if they are treated as ’opt-in’ by religious believers?”

Last year, ADF International’s executive director Paul Coleman wrote that the Colorado and Belfast bakers’ cases represented “a fork in the road” and that they would “shape the directions of Western freedoms in the years ahead”.

But, at the US LGBT rights group Equality Federation, Mark Snyder said that despite “emboldened” attempts from conservative groups to “undermine our core values of fairness and equality”, resistance to these efforts is also strong.

“I think there has been a renewed awakening to the importance of intersectional movement building,” he said, “as we see that it is the same cynical politicians and far-right activists attacking women, immigrants, and LGBTQ people.”