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UKIP's 'Christian Manifesto' Will Be Repulsive to Many Christian Voters

29/04/2015 16:49 BST | Updated 25/06/2015 10:59 BST

Nigel Farage has just launched UKIP's "Christian manifesto" promising to put up a "muscular defence of our Christian heritage". Whether Christians in Britain want to be muscularly defended by Nigel Farage is another matter.

The manifesto was distributed via the right-wing lobby group Christian Concern (who claim not to be party-political). UKIP is promising to protect the rights of Christians who don't want to act against their beliefs at work.

What Farage (and Christian Concern) have in mind are civil registrars who don't want to marry same-sex couples, guest house owners who don't want to serve gay and bisexual people and teachers who would rather not say anything positive about Muslims.

They do not of course mean that Christian civil servants should be able to refuse to implement policies that increase poverty, that Christian bank staff should be exempt from participating in usury or that Christian employees at the Border Agency should be much more welcoming to refugees. Neither Farage nor Christian Concern want to be reminded that Jesus' teachings showed far more concern with resisting poverty and welcoming strangers than with anything to do with sexual orientation.

Many British Christians are well aware that Jesus did not encourage his followers to demand privileges for themselves that are denied to others, or to claim the "right" to discriminate against minorities.

A poll in February asked British evangelicals to name their top political concern . The most common answer was not marriage or abortion or the "right" of Christians to discriminate against others. It was poverty and inequality. UKIP's Thatcherite economic policies will only make such problems worse, while UKIP's passion for increased military spending will divert funding from public services and the welfare state.

Meanwhile, other surveys suggest that British Christians are divided fairly equally on the question of same-sex marriage.

UKIP, however, has a history of using Christian rhetoric to appeal for votes. Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall says that "UKIP are the only party that now supports and will protect the fundamental rights of Christians." Nigel Farage recently described cutting overseas aid as "the sensible Christian thing to do".

The last general election offered the public the chance to vote for two parties labelling themselves "Christian". Five years later, both parties have declined but their former leaders are again involved in the election. Significantly, this time they're campaigning for UKIP.

Alan Craig, former leader of the Christian People's Alliance, is UKIP candidate for Brent North. George Hargreaves, founder and former leader of the Christian Party, was allegedly lined up as UKIP candidate for Coventry South, but was removed following outrage at his views on HIV, Muslims and Wales.

Both men are strong opponents of LGBT rights and religious equality. Alan Craig was nominated as "Bigot of the Year" after comparing the growth of LGBT rights with the rise of the Nazis. He opposes Islamic banking as "part of a wider Islamist agenda".

George Hargreaves welcomed the coalition government's cuts in 2010 as an "opportunity" for churches to increase their influence. He wants the Red Dragon to be removed from the Welsh flag on the grounds that it is the "sign of Satan".

UKIP bigwigs denied that they were ever planning to put Hargreaves in place as candidate for Coventry South, despite a string of reports in the Coventry Telegraph. They're claiming that Craig's support for "therapy" to "heal" gay and bisexual people "is not representative of UKIP's view".

Of course, UKIP are frequently deselecting candidates for bigoted and homophobic comments. But many remain in the party. One group is "Christian Soldiers of UKIP", who are "fighting through Christ for delivery from EU tyranny" and who described the Manchester Pride march as "a display of wickedness".

It would be wrong to think that the UK has much of a "Christian Right" in the same way as the US. Conservative Christian lobby groups in Britain tend to ignore economic issues and focus on a narrow range of "Christian" concerns - by which they mean their horror of Islam, LGBT rights and abortion. By ignoring poverty, war and climate change, however, they are right-wing by default, implying that the status quo in these areas is acceptable.

UKIP has been friendly to such groups for a while. In 2011, UKIP MEP Gerard Batten held a meeting with Christian Concern to discuss shared aims of "Dismantling Multiculturalism". As a result, he produced a "Code of Conduct", which he said that all British Muslims should be expected to sign.

The next year, UKIP's Oxford Branch complained to the Law Society over its refusal to host a Christian Concern conference. Six months ago, Christian Concern's director Andrea Williams hailed Douglas Carswell's victory for UKIP in the Clacton by-election as "a breakthrough moment", praising Carswell's "support for the natural family".

In case you have any doubts about the sort of organisation this is, it's worth noting that Christian Concern is still refusing to answer the accusation that they held a phone meeting on shared concerns with Tommy Robinson when he was leader of the English Defence League.

Christian Concern is not representative even of British evangelicals, let alone British Christians generally. But while they're talking about UKIP, many other Christian groups are failing to speak out against it. Most churches do not endorse UKIP's hateful scaremongering and minority-bashing, but they are not calling it out, partly because they are frightened of appearing as party-political. This needs to change.