While discussing politics with some fellow Christians last week I suggested, in the light of a likely unprecedented Conservative revolt over the issue of gender-neutral ‘marriage’, that Britain is now entering a culture war. It was put to me that ‘we lost the culture war 30 years ago’.
The very next day this article by Fraser Nelson appeared in the Telegraph.
Nick Clegg released the text of a speech in which he regretted the fact that economic turmoil “gives the bigots a stick to beat us with, as they demand we 'postpone’ the equalities agenda”. He later withdrew the b-word, but his point was made: that Britain is now divided into two camps. You have the Liberal Democrats, friends of equality. And on the other side, the “bigots” – a group that presumably includes followers of every mainstream religion. A former adviser to Clegg resurfaced to say that his boss ought to have stuck to his word, because such people are indeed bigots.
A Washington strategist would have given Clegg full marks for this textbook example of culture war. The British gay marriage debate has now become (as the American sociologist James Hunter puts it) a matter of “political and social hostility rooted in different systems of moral understanding”. The trick is to draw a dividing line, insult those on the other side – and try to attract supporters by forcing people to choose.
This is one way in which the situation that we currently have is different to what has gone before, pace my discussion partner. Very many people who carry political weight no longer even pretend that they would rather persuade their opponents than simply write them off as basically evil.
What I had in mind, though, was something different. The strength of the parliamentary disquiet over this issue reveals, I think, that people are finally waking up to the fact that the political advance of a secular ‘liberal’ agenda is not simply a natural progression but, in some aspects, a revolution. They should have realised this five years ago when a law change meant that (successful) church-run adoption agencies were forced to close for refusing to place children with same-sex couples.
I’m not sure what to hope or pray for in this environment. I don’t think that the emergence of a ‘religious right’ as a political force in this country would necessarily be a good thing for the advance of the gospel. Already I wince at many of the causes that some Christian organisations choose to fight, because they often give the impression that all that Christians care about is looking out for ourselves. But anything that forces people to revisit their easy assumptions about the social importance of the natural family would be a welcome wake-up. And if anyone were to stop to reflect on what basis they have for any moral judgements at all, so much the better.