Melanie McDonagh: Christian friends you don't need

Christian Voice embarrasses those humdrum Christians whose faith takes a quieter and less obtrusive form
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The Independent Online

It's been a difficult week for Christianity - and I'm not just talking about the poor Pope's tracheotomy. Actually, in terms of how Christianity is perceived, the Pope's illness and the way he's transmuting his weakness into a lesson about the dignity of suffering, is remarkably edifying.

It's been a difficult week for Christianity - and I'm not just talking about the poor Pope's tracheotomy. Actually, in terms of how Christianity is perceived, the Pope's illness and the way he's transmuting his weakness into a lesson about the dignity of suffering, is remarkably edifying.

What will really be distressing quiet Christians isn't John Paul II's quiet crucifixion by being starved of breath. Christianity can usually surmount outward difficulties and the animosity of its enemies; it's the friends that it has to look out for. Foremost among the protagonists of Christianity who have given it a bad press is the small group of evangelical Christians, Christian Voice, that is threatening to picket abortion clinics.

At the other extreme, there are the noisy and rich American liberals who are insisting that their views on homosexuality - expressed in the consecration of a gay bishop who left his wife for another man - should be recognised by the rest of the Anglican communion. It's all been exquisitely embarrassing for Anglicans - including Rowan Williams - most of whom would not dream of interfering in the private lives of their vicars, but who draw the line at seeing the Church apparently hijacked by the gay rights movement and its opponents.

Undoubtedly, though, Christian Voice, under its vociferous leader, Stephen Green, has attracted the kind of publicity that is most vexing for ordinary Christians, since so few of his very vigorous views seem to reflect their own. First, there was the row about the screening of Jerry Springer - The Opera, during which Christian Voice published the addresses of BBC executives for the use of objectors.

Last week, it persuaded the cancer charity Maggie's Centres to reject a donation from the cast of Jerry Springer, by saying they could expect demonstrations if they didn't.

Now, Mr Green is taking his campaign against Jerry Springer to Broadway and has announced that the organisation will conduct prayer vigils outside abortion clinics to dissuade women from going into them. As a result, the officious Labour MP for Hornchurch, John Cryer, is calling on the Home Secretary to investigate the organisation. If ever there was a way of guaranteeing this tiresome body maximum publicity, this is it.

On the three issues about which Christian Voice has kicked up a fuss, I am in sympathy on two. I saw the theatre production of Jerry Springer, and the act featuring a nappy-wearing Christ ranting at God the Father and the Virgin Mary struck me as blasphemous. It wasn't challenging, just vulgar and silly. On abortion, too, I take a dim view - and we learned this week that more than 180,000 took place last year. But my views aren't consciously religious, just based on the notion that we shouldn't take human life if we can help it.

As for taking money from questionable sources, I'm right there with the late Mother Teresa, who took money from absolutely anyone, knowing that she was going to sanctify the tainted funds by putting it at the service of the poor. For this, incidentally, she was bad-mouthed by Christopher Hitchens. If Maggie's Centres had sense, they would have done the same.

But the interesting feature of Christian Voice is not that its views are exceptional, but that it can be accepted by the BBC and assorted newspapers as the voice of Christianity simply by announcing that it speaks for Christians. Excuse me, but as a commonplace Catholic, I am about as representative of the faith as Mr Green, and he doesn't speak for me. He embarrasses those humdrum, churchgoing Christians whose faith takes a quieter and less obtrusive form than that of his own troupe.

It's odd that this strident group has been taken on its own terms as representative of Christianity. The homosexual activists, and their opponents, have also monopolised the debate about religion. Why have they been allowed to get away with it? The issues that now dominate discussion of Christianity tell us little about the faith, but an awful lot about the society it inhabits.

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