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UKIP and a sense of betrayal

10 October 2014

THE art of preaching Christian social responsibility to a parish congregation was once likened to explaining the world-view of The Guardian in the language of the Daily Mail to readers of The Daily Telegraph.

No part of this quip is true. Few clergy have perfected the language of the Mail, and not all inhabit The Guardian's view of the world. Nor is it true that most churchgoers are Telegraph readers. But the quip reflects something easily forgotten, which is that the Church has a significant lay constituency that is instinctively conservative; and within it some are inevitably drawn to UKIP.

I have yet to meet a priest who has anything but scorn for Nigel Farage's party. I don't like it much myself: the constant scapegoating of immigrants infuriates me, and I dislike the knee-jerk anti-Europeanism. But it is important to be aware that there are people in the pews who feel a resonance with UKIP's message.

Among them are some conservative Christians, Roman Catholic and Evangelical, who cannot understand why the Church seems so supine in the wake of the breakdown of traditional sexual morality. Then there are those whose Christianity is linked to a love of England, a deep sense of continuity with past generations, and a belief that values once commonly held have been diluted by mass immigration and the dominance of a liberal elite in the media and in academia. Those views, not uncommon in rural areas, play to UKIP's agenda.

The concern for the Church must be that, while most of those who share the values of the metropolitan elite find Ukip either comic or repulsive, there are anxious Christians who could come to believe that Ukip supports their Christian identity. They, like seceding Tories and disenchanted Labour voters, are projecting on to Ukip their sense of being ignored by church leaders as well as by the big political parties. The liberal elite does not speak for them, and does not appear to care about them. It is tragic that anyone could find in Mr Farage the face of authentic Englishness, but that is what his followers claim.

The truth is, of course, that Ukip does not yet know what it is. It now tries to distance itself from its anti-liberal stance on sexual morality (which puts off the young, who are more tolerant); and, with its inroads into Labour territory, it is no longer obviously a right-wing party. What those who preach to potential Ukip supporters should address is their massive sense of betrayal.

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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