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The Religious Right: a media invention?

01 February 2013

THE Church Times has always been a specialist weekly. It is natural for us to feel irritated by attempts to simplify religion elsewhere in the media. Among the more wearisome of these in recent years have been the stories of decline, financial hardship, impending schism, abusive priests, and so on. It is understandable when the church hierarchy attempts to counteract this approach with an excessively positive narrative of its own; but these PR forays can be just as wide of the mark. The Church in this country has always been a patchwork of stories, many inspiring, some not. There are movements and fashions that, on occasions, alter the behaviour or thinking of many churchpeople, though never all, and almost always more slowly than commentators suggest.

Individuals or groups with a narrow, sectarian interest are frequently represented in the media as representing "Christians". There are three types of culprit: the unscrupulous reporter or, more typically, broadcast producer, who simply seeks good copy; the busy journalist who has time only to contact those who are readily available; and the "religious pundit", who has the spurious weight of some sort of organisation behind him or her. Because these together have brought religion in the secular media to such a low pitch, there is a fourth culprit: the sensible, knowledgeable practitioner who understandably puts other priorities above correcting false media impressions.

In this light, we commend the new Theos report on the supposed Religious Right in the UK. Its authors examine the credentials of those organisations most often cited as examples of a right-ward shift, and find, in sum, that they have neither the support, the organisation, the connections, nor the policies to constitute a political movement that corresponds to the Christian Right in the United States, which is, itself, experiencing the doldrums after the recent Republican defeat. And yet these organisations are the source of the persecution narrative that has now been accepted as the normal experience of Christians in the UK.

We therefore recognise the sentiments behind this description of these organisations by someone from one of the more mainstream groups, the executive director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, Colin Bloom: "They are so marginalised where it matters that they're irrelevant. They're only relevant to a lazy journalistic clique that try and create a polemic for good TV or good radio. . . They want to get the most extreme voices and say, 'you represent the Evangelical Christian Right' - and these people are mad!"

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