British Culture Wars: An American Import, By Way Of Globalized Theopolitics

Great Britain has its own version of the Christian right, one which has borrowed extensively from our own. One difference, according to Andrew Brown at the Guardian: many of its clerical leaders are black.

Brown sees trouble ahead as this British Christian right gears up for the upcoming election. The movement, he writes, “is nationalist, socially conservative, suspicious of markets, critical of Islam, authoritarian.” On Easter Sunday, its leadership put their signatures to the Westminster 2010 Declaration, a document that sounds very much like the Manhattan Declaration put out last year by American evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox conservatives, and which promised civil disobedience to laws that mess with what these arch-conservatives insist are Scriptural and natural law prohibitions on sex outside of marriage and other alleged abominations.

Manhattan: “We affirm . . . marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society.” Westminster: “We pledge to support marriage – the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. We believe it is divinely ordained, the only context for sexual intercourse, and the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all.”

One key difference between the British and American versions is that the Westminster signatories, unlike their counterparts across the pond in Manhattan, have taken up the issue of immigration. In the Manhattan Declaration, which claims to be a call to “Christian conscience” to preserve life and family, and which asserts that “Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering,” there isn’t even a mention of immigration. Undoubtedly the base of support for the document, or at least the allies that base needs to cohere a conservative coalition, would never countenance such an open-hearted Christianity.

But in Britain, the focus on immigration is limited, too, and demonstrates that the globalized Christianity that is bringing immigration into the Westminster document sees it not as a religious conscience issue, but as a way of marginalizing Muslims. As Brown puts it, by calling for protection of those “appropriately seeking asylum,” the Westminster Declaration suggests “the beginnings of a religious test on immigration policy. Muslim immigration makes these people very nervous, but poor Christians, especially fleeing from persecution in Muslim countries, should, they believe, be welcomed.”

You might say the Westminster signatories are a bit more advanced than their Manhattan counterparts by even taking up immigration. (Or perhaps it is a matter of necessity because some of the signatories, no doubt influenced by American evangelicalism brought to Africa and elsewhere, are themselves immigrants to Britain, or at least pastor a community of immigrants.) But like the Manhattan Declaration, the orientation of the Westminster Declaration is framed around the persecution of Christians by (in the case of the Manhattan Declaration) secular society and (in the case of the Westminster Declaration) secular society and Islam. That’s not to say that the American Christian right doesn’t advance its own anti-Islam propaganda and activism. It’s just that it hasn’t figured out how to weave it into a document about “Christian conscience” yet.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email