The ugly face of the British evangelical lobby

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme tonight, In God’s Name, featured David Modell following some Christian evangelists as they went looking for “souls” on various run-down council estates, lobbied against the proposed changes to the British embryology laws and campaigned against the Abbey Mills mosque in east London. While there were some cheap shots against their expressions of faith, the film did expose the ugly side of Christian agitation against abortion and embryology research.

One of the higher-profile figures in the campaign against the new embryology laws is Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire (the area north of Luton, containing Flitwick and Ampthill). Dorries turned up very late in the programme, with Modell telling her some things she might like to know about her evangelical lobbyist. Modell said something about fundamentalists having access to power and influence and Dorries replied, “are you calling me power and influence?”, but then said people with the opposite view had such access as well and that MPs are there for everyone. When Modell revealed the friends the evangelical lobbyist had in the fundamentalist Christian community in front of both of them, the lobbyist paused and then ended the interview.

The lobbyist was Andrea Minichiello Williams, public policy director of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship. Modell had shown the LCF giving an audience to Sam Solomon, a supposed former Muslim and expert on Islam who told the audience that Islam is based on one word - hate - and that even apparently decent and hospitable Muslims will go and slaughter once the ‘need’ arises, as his Nigerian former neighbours did, and that the closer you get to the Islamic sources, the more radical and hateful you become. Another well-known evangelical agitator, Steven Green, was shown leading a small group of people in a prayer outing to somewhere near the proposed site of the Abbey Mills Mosque, praying against “this symbol of Islam, this symbol of oppression”, and opining that “Allah is Satan” and making other derogatory remarks about Islam. Modell had not done enough research to be able to tell him that Christians in the Arab world use the Name, Allah, as well.

Also towards the end of the programme, a meeting in a room in the House of Commons was shown in which a few female pro-“choice” activists had managed to infiltrate. They started heckling, “women’s rights are human rights”, and Ms Williams was shown encouraging her supporters to stand up and applaud. The infiltrators, however, were pulled out of their seats by male guards and one of them was shown being dragged out along the floor by the arm. Modell then interviewed Stephen Green again, who told us that he feared that this country would face war in thirty or forty years’ time if the Muslim population grows, because people would not want to live “under the yoke of Islam”.

I could not fail to notice some cheap shots against their religiosity, which is a different matter from their bigoted attitudes towards Islam. The daughter of one activist was shown sitting at the piano playing and singing a religious song, which may have been intended to provoke a contemptuous, condescending reaction from the intended sceptical audience, but in fact was not much different from the hymns I sang at Catholic school (admittedly, some of those are toe-curling, but this song was mild by comparison). Modell asked prurient and unnecessary questions of one of them about his sex life, remarking afterwards that he was struck by this man’s devotion to his faith and that such strong beliefs could lead to big things (I am paraphrasing here). However, their tactics and behaviour would put many people off; one very respectable-looking middle-aged man was shown at the beginning saying (regarding homosexuality) he did not want his twenty grand-children being old it was OK to get sh*t on your penis, which even some who might strongly disapprove of homosexuality might find to be an offensive, vulgar statement. They all seemed like a rather miserable bunch of men and really did not look as if the spirit was moving them.

The programme did show a sad fact about the British evangelicals’ attempt to construct a US-style “moral majority” in this country: that it cannot conceal its hatred for Islam when most Muslims would agree with them in many of their moral campaigns, such as their anti-abortion campaign and possibly even that against producing hybrid human-animal embryos. I am sure that the pro-choice lobby are beside themselves with glee at the sight of one group of their opponents effectively denouncing a group which is on the same side as them as devil-worshippers. Again, this is something Modell did not put to either Green or Williams; I do not know if this is because Modell had not done his homework or because he did not want to give them ideas; most likely it would have made no difference to them.

The documentary was revealing, but rather like Keith Allen’s documentary on the Westboro cult, let down by the presenter’s obvious lack of sympathy with his subjects and dislike of their religious beliefs; a journalist with less obvious sceptical views, and more knowledge about religion, might be better able to challenge these bigots’ views about other religious people rather than hold them up to public ridicule.

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