Editor-At-Large: Christians awake (but does that include the censors and bullies?)

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The Independent Online

In this season of goodwill to all men and women, an alternative version of the Christmas spirit will emanate from the Christian right. This week marks a historic moment for homosexual men and women in Britain, with the start of legally binding civil partnerships. But, for some religious groups, what should be a special season of celebration is going to be marked by another phase in a dirty war of propaganda and bullying. For them, there is only one version of Christianity, and their narrow view drives them to increasingly reprehensible tactics.

Christian Voice, a group with fewer than 1,000 members, managed to lobby hard enough to get its spokesman, Stephen Green, on an edition of Question Time with me earlier this autumn. Can you think of any other religious group (Muslim, Buddhist or Catholic) with such a small membership who would be granted such a privilege? This is the gang that has maintained such a vociferous campaign against the musical Jerry Springer - The Opera (declaring it "filthy, blasphemous and offensive to the Christian faith") that Woolworths and Sainsbury's have taken the extraordinary step of withdrawing the DVD from their shelves this Christmas, because of "customer complaints". Sainsbury's admitted it received exactly 10 calls, and I think we can guess who they came from. Questions have been asked in Parliament, and Equity, the actors' union, received more than 100 angry responses from its members over this blatant act of censorship. Joan Bakewell, chairman of the National Campaign for the Arts, described the stores' action as "deplorable".

When the BBC2 broadcast Jerry Springer - The Opera earlier this year, Christian Voice organised street vigils, bombarded the corporation with phone calls and petitions, threatened legal action and publicised the home addresses of senior BBC executives. Some BBC staff received calls threatening "bloodshed" if the broadcast went ahead. In spite of winning numerous awards, and rave reviews when it opened at the National Theatre, the show has been continually targeted by Stephen Green and his nasty band of bigots, who stood outside the theatre protesting until it closed after 609 performances. More than 425,000 theatre-goers and 2.4 million viewers (the largest audience ever for an opera on television) have seen the show, and are perfectly capable of making up their own minds about whether it is offensive or not. But Mr Green does not believe in free speech: Christian Voice then successfully petitioned the Arts Council not to fund the regional tour, and threatened to prosecute any theatres prepared to stage it, resulting in a loss of a third of the venues. The tour will reopen in Plymouth in January, visiting Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff and Nottingham, all of which had the guts to stand up to Mr Green and his bunch of zealots.

Earlier this year, Christian Voice contactedMaggie's Centres, a charity that builds units for cancer sufferers and their families, and said that if it accepted up to £10,000 from a charity performance of Jerry Springer, then that was "tainted" money, and the charity's other fundraising activities might suffer. Astonishingly, the charity bosses kow-towed to these bully-boy tactics and terminally ill people have lost out, directly affected by action ostensibly taken in the name of God. How crazy is that?

It is worth saying at Christmas, that Jesus himself would have been appalled by the behaviour of Christian Voice, which frequently takes His name in vain.

In June this year, the Co-operative Bank forced Christian Voice to close its account, after "discriminatory pronouncements based on sexual orientation". In July, Christian Voice demonstrated against the London Gay Pride March and Stephen Green described it as "a sinful lifestyle characterised by deceit, degradation and death". Those were the kind of comments that the makers of Question Time decided qualified Mr Green to make an appearance on the show. Now Christian Voice is campaigning for a boycott of the Co-operative Bank, claiming "it does not honour the name of Jesus Christ". Personally, I wish all our readers would embark on a boycott of Sainsbury's and Woolworths for bowing to the wishes of a bunch of fanatics. How dare the bosses of two big retailers listen to the rantings of a few and then restrict the freedom to choose of the majority of ordinary Britons!

Meanwhile, the tactics employed by Christian Voice mimic those of the ultra-conservative American Family Association, which started calling for a boycott of Ford vehicles in May and campaigning for Ford to withdraw its advertising from gay and lesbian publications. According to the AFA, Ford "promoted homosexuality" when it extended partner benefits to gay employees and supported gay events.

Sales are down for Ford, and it might have wanted to scale back advertising for purely economic reasons, but after intensive lobbying from gay rights groups the company announced last week that it would join Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover and continue to advertise in gay publications.

Interestingly, another right-wing religious group, the US Southern Baptist Convention, ended an eight-year boycott of the Walt Disney Corporation over allegedly pro-gay policies in June of this year, after it was proved that it had absolutely no effect.

You may think that the scare tactics employed by the AFA and the Southern Baptists, not to mention their undoubted influence in the White House, have no place in British politics. But if Mr Green and his zealots can affect what you can buy at Woolies this Christmas, I'm here to tell you they have already arrived. And that's bad news for everyone, gay or straight, in the coming months.

Bad taste: The unbearable smugness of Radio 4

Outcry over the decision to cull Radio 4's 'Home Truths'.

Andy Kershaw went on 'Today' and reeled off a list of all the programmes on the station he'd chop - starting with 'Midweek', 'Money Box', 'Woman's Hour', 'PM'... by the time he'd finished ranting there was nothing left. Of course, I'd cull Andy Kershaw for polluting Radio 3 with his ghastly alternative world music when I'd rather have another hour of baroque symphonies or Mahler - anything rather than a load of blokes banging bin lids in Kenya recorded 10 years ago. But he has a point; 'You and Yours' is my particular bugbear - a programme so sanctimonious and smug I want to chuck the radio across the room. Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time' is a brilliant example of Radio 4 at its best - the history of ideas brought to life by passionate experts. Can Radio 4 please stop being so bloody cosy?

Good taste: Even with all his F words, Gordon's a sweetie-pie

Appearing with Gordon Ramsay last week on his television programme 'The F Word', I discovered that he's a secret charmer. After I beat him in a cook-off with my figgy pudding, he actually took defeat quite manfully. I could have done without him constantly reminding me his mum was my age, but his enthusiasm for food and his well-meaning campaign to get us all cooking again deserves to be a success. Compared to the simpering Jamie who seems so pleased with himself, Gordon might swear like a trooper, but his heart's in the right place.

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