Monday, 12 June 2017

the election, the dup and christians

I stayed up for the election on Thursday. As I've said before, accurate election polls took the fun out of staying up, but Twitter has put the fun back in. Once again people disbelieved the exit polls and they turned out to be almost exactly right; but the individual details of how it was right were fascinating as they rolled in; and Twitter was full of information and entertainment (if you were following the right people), and the opportunity to back-and-forth with friends.

But later on Friday, when it became obvious that the way ahead was some kind of Tory arrangement with the DUP, it turned more unpleasant. British media, columnists and Tweeters really got stuck in on what this unpleasant lunatic fringe party was like. What was most striking to me, however, was that the vast majority of the anti-DUP Tweets and links I saw weren't related to corruption, possible terrorism links, political incompetence or ineffectiveness, or NI Assembly implications, but to their socially and religiously conservative views, views similar to historic Christian beliefs. Even Christians were expressing their disgust and horror at these fundamentalist, misogynistic, homophobic creationists.

I felt very aware, however, that however much I might differ from any particular members of the DUP (and sadly I have no reason to disbelieve the kind of quotes and behaviour that were being cited), I fear many of those writing about or commenting on the DUP would not see any difference that mattered between me and them, and would apply the same terms to me (I guess that Christians agreeing with these criticisms either thought naively that of course they didn't mean Christians like *them*, or that they too abhorred their fellow Christians who had such old-school views and were being rightly described). There's not much room for nuance - we're just different shades of black. Think Sunday is different, think abortion is wrong, hold to what we shall call the historic understanding of what the Bible teaches about the role of women in church leadership and matters of sexual behaviour, think God made the world. Things like these used to be pretty much mainstream evangelical belief, but it is on the one hand decreasingly so and on the other increasingly unacceptable in our society (and, gradually, in the evangelical church) for anyone to hold those views. Tim Farron's hounding about his views on sexuality and then abortion, and his recanting of both, were brutal and salutary.

I decided on Saturday night that I would take a break from Twitter for a few days, because I expected things to get worse, not least because the next part of the new American serial dramatisation of The Handmaid's Tale was going to be on on Sunday. I'd already had a few weeks on Twitter - when it was coming in the US and then when it came here - of people seeing it as a documentary prediction of what evangelicals would like the future to be like, and adding fuel to the fire of an atmosphere of increased hatred of evangelical Christians; and I expected people to cross the streams for some DUP/Handmaid multiplication. (I haven't read the book yet; I've seen the older film, which I didn't much like.) It's really rather upsetting how many people hate Christians who are in the category I would be placed by them.

And a couple of things just on the general political points. Firstly, while all the GB coverage I was seeing was like people discovering monsters under a rock, the DUP is not actually a lunatic fringe party in Northern Ireland, but the largest party with increased seats and vote share. How do the Northern Irish view the DUP? As the newly-attentive GB does? Or something more nuanced? I don't believe they are going to turn out to be the monstrous bogeymen so many people seem to expect.

Secondly, it is possible to do business with people whose views are diametrically opposed to yours on particular issues, and it is possible for those people to be good and decent people who can be worked with (it is of course also possible for them to be thoroughly unpleasant, which can also be true of people you completely agree with). The DUP themselves offered a perfect example of that, as it happens, in the NI Assembly with Sinn Fein, as we were reminded earlier in the year when Martin McGuinness died and there was much coverage of how he and Ian Paisley had worked together (and some unexpected tributes to Martin from Ian's family members).

And it happens at an individual level in the other direction all the time: no major, mainstream GB party has, for example, a position on abortion which pro-life Christians would be anywhere near entirely happy with, but every party has pro-life Christians who are voters, members and elected representatives of that party. British Christians are political pragmatists, and just as they know there is no perfect church to join they know there is no perfect party to join.

(Interestingly, Sunday's Red Box political email from the Times said this: 'The Sunday Times reveals she [Arlene Foster, DUP leader] has a 45-point bucket list focused on health, education and infrastructure. Some fear the Tory party could become "toxified" if it bows to hardline DUP's demands on abortion or gay rights, but no such measures are currently under consideration.' Health, education and infrastructure.)

But there seems to be an increasing number of people who think that such Christians should not be members or elected representatives of respectable parties, and that is troubling and depressing.