Alistair Burt, MP for North East Bedfordshire, Assistant Chief Whip and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, suggests that Conservatives and Christians in the UK should welcome a loosening of ties between American Evangelicals and the Republican Party.
"There is very good reason to believe that in the coming years,
Americans’ religious communities will no longer be seen as the natural
allies of political conservatism." – E J Dionne, ‘Souled Out’ 2008
American politics seems all about ‘Obamentum’, and Hillary’s comeback
as the Democratic world rocks in a ferment of excitement about the
Illinois’s Senator’s audacious bid to topple Hillary Clinton and be the
voice of America’s tomorrow.
But on the other side of the divide, an equally interesting, if less
dramatic change may be taking place. John McCain has won the
Republican nomination, to the intense anger of some conservatives, who
do not believe that he is ‘one of us’. Liberal attitudes, in US terms,
to abortion, civil partnerships and illegal immigration, have not
impressed those who booed him at the Conservative Political Action
Conference a few weeks ago.
The rift amongst Conservatives may be a reflection of the end of the phenomenon of the grip of the Evangelical Christian right on the Republican Party. A run of books, notably Souled Out by the political writer E J Dionne, and The Great Awakening by Jim Wallis, is heralding the end of the close association between evangelicals and the Republican Party, a process which might be accelerated if the choice of McCain leads to Evangelicals withdrawing their support for the party in the Presidential contest. The writers make the point that America is tiring of a link between politics and faith which has appeared to put personal morality above issues such as poverty, justice and war, and that Christian voices which take a more balanced view of American problems may just now be succeeding to be heard in a crowded field.
I think this is a development which ought to please Conservatives and Christians alike in the UK. Whilst some have flirted with the possibility of creating a similar link here, most of us have both feared that such a false association would be harmful, and been glad that our faith appeared to allow broader political choices. Indeed many of us remember with a shudder the converse in the eighties, when left wing Christians would solemnly and righteously intone that you could not be a Christian and vote for Mrs Thatcher.
If the US has grown up enough to accept that God’s writ should run much wider than over our private life, then this is good news for them and us alike. So watch out for further expression of this development, which may hurt the Republicans in the short term but in the longer term be beneficial to it. And for Christians it should be a blessed relief no longer to have faith questioned when a left of centre view is raised; an eternally prophetic voice should never be trammelled either by short term narrow mindedness or here-today-gone-tomorrow politics.