All posts by Garry Otton

Religion Turns Nasty

Religion Turns Nasty

Will the religious right be going quietly?

2012 looked like going the same way as the 2004 US Presidential elections when Carl Rove rallied the Religious right to get George W Bush in for a second term. Almost half of Americans rallied round Mitt Romney, a Mormon presidential candidate who wears ‘sacred’ underwear to stop him playing with himself, believes Jesus is coming back to rule us from Missouri and that we’re all descended from planet Kolob. This time round, one mid-western Republican candidate, said a woman’s body had ways of shutting down after a rape and another suggested, even if a man was successful, it was intended by God anyway. I wasn’t the only one pressing my ‘f’ key twice and ‘s’ once! Despite generous funding and support; this sorry pair both lost their seats. Four other States went on to vote for equal marriage and Barack Obama won. US Professor of public policy, Mark Rozell and Professor of government, Clyde Wilcox wrote in The Washington Post: “It will not surprise us if observers declaring the death of the Christian Right today are marvelling at its big comeback in two or four years.” You betcha! Within days, the Vatican unleashed a torrent of anti-gay bile from the Vatican threatening to roll out its homophobia across the world, Scotland on Sunday’s Catholic columnist, Gerald Warner insisted we’d all got the figures wrong and an editorial in The Daily Telegraph agreed.

The religious have been losing in Scotland too. The 2008 by-election in Glenrothes saw Peter Grant standing for the SNP – backed by letters read out from the pulpits of local churches, penned by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, winner of Stonewall’s 2012 Bigot of the Year award. He lost. Three years ago, David Kerr, the former editor of Newsnight Scotland, and Scottish Catholic Media Office’s PR man for the pope’s ‘state’ visit and member of sinister Catholic sect, Opus Dei, stood in Glasgow North East. He lost too. Badly.

John ‘the Baptist’ Mason might’ve won in Glasgow East for the SNP before thanking everyone “who prayed for him”, but the moment he started drumming up support for demands religionists must be able to carry on discriminating against gays if they wanted to, things started turning in on him. Just two other SNP MSPs put their names down to his parliamentary motion. Richard Lyle, a longstanding opponent of gay equality and four-times wed Dunfermline MSP, 70-year-old Bill Walker, who found himself on wife-beating charges filed by three of them. Walker denies it, but the SNP couldn’t distance themselves from Walker quick enough. Mason, on the other hand, got a seat on an Equal Opportunities Committee.(Something I’m as comfortable with as Rosemary West sitting on a Children’s Panel!) Mason explained on Facebook: “I guess the aim on the Equal Opportunities Committee is to get a bit of balance. It would be wrong if the whole committee supported same sex marriage and no one put alternative views.” (Someone will first need to explain to him what the word ‘equality’ actually means).

Anyone thinking the religious right are just going to go quietly are mistaken. Listen carefully; the tramp of Jesus in jackboots is getting louder. Once upon a time, homosexuals were grateful for any cleric who spoke out in support of gay rights. Those gentle times have gone. The pews have emptied; their congregations have forsaken their seats for plots in the yard outside. Churches and mosques are increasingly run by militants.

Up Sauchie, doon Buckie and before you’re alang Argyle, you’ll find St George’s-Tron, a lovely piece of William Stark architecture sitting slap-bang in the middle of Glasgow’s shopping centre and crying to the heavens to be saved by the spirits of Wetherspoons. It seceded from the Church of Scotland in June while the Kirk was still wringing their liver-spotted hands over a minister who just happened to be gay. One half of the schism claims standing room only for a congregation that wants to deny gay people equality. The shelves of their bookshop groan with a line of quackery that brooks no dissent. My visit was assailed by the sight of young, strident religionists managing the demands of some poor chap with learning difficulties buying salvation for a cosy chat, a cup of tea and a custard cream. The Herald, one of the most religious broadsheets this side of Westminster Abbey, has for weeks been updating readers on the Tron siege.

It’s just the tip of the steeple.

The lavish French gothic Camphill Church by Queens Park started out in 1876 and became Camphill Queen’s Park Church of Scotland promoting all that is decent in Sta-Prest with carols at Christmas. Easter bunnies, Mrs Mackay’s chutney at harvest festival and the peel of bells across the park only just managed to conceal the smell. The stench of opposition to women’s emancipation; ending slavery; Catholic civil rights; relinquishing control over education; giving up unelected seats in House of Lords, and, as the years went by, fighting the decriminalisation of homosexuality, an equal age of consent, appropriate sex education in schools, ‘pornography’ and equal marriage. Intoxicated by power, it set up its own court and dabbled in property speculation. Salvation came in the shape of the Queens Park Baptist Church which offers Alpha courses and claims to be run by “a Core Leadership Team” and a congregation broken down into “homegroup cells”. If the Church of Scotland was turning their back on God’s word; the Baptists would soon turn it round.

Close by is Queens Park Parish Church, another Church of Scotland establishment that firmly states on its website: “We are evangelical. We believe in the Bible”. The battle flags of evangelical Alpha courses are draped over its railings and it devotes a whole page on its website to challenging equal marriage.

Nearby is yet another evangelical church of the apostolic network of ministries, Destiny. (Not to be confused by Destiny Ministries International, Kingdom Destiny Ministries International or Triumphant Church International Destiny Ministries which are all separate charities). By working for the ‘public benefit’, Destiny Foundations qualifies as a Scottish charity, citing ‘the advancement of religion’ amongst other endeavours and thereby benefitting from tax exemptions. The church has ‘cells’, called ‘Growth’ groups that meet in homes across the city. With strong international connections, their outreach already extends to Aberdeen, Dundee, Fife, Stirling and other Scottish towns and produces programmes and music videos for broadcast on the evangelical, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky satellite network. Under 5s are encouraged to ‘listen to stories’ in a special group called ‘Destiny Tots’ while older children are encouraged to find the church ‘meaningful and relevant’.

The Destiny Church paid £140,000 each for two flats opposite their headquarters in Pollockshaws Road to turn them into hostels for men entering year-long ‘discipleships’. Despite a local residents’ petition and support for their objections by the local councillor, David Meikle, the church remained steadfastly unrepentant. David Thomson, Assistant Pastor at Destiny Church told local journalists: “We want this to be a blessing on the community”. In 2009, the Local News found two businesses registered at these flats: Destiny Recordings Ltd and Destiny Church Munchen Ltd with Head Pastor, Andrew Owen listed as director of both companies. The paper found no evidence of change of use from residential to commercial and no collection of an estimated £10,000 of business rates for three years despite Destiny having paid over £2 million to acquire the former Clydesdale Bank building in Townhead. But business is good. Dobbies garden centre in Barrhead Road might’ve been a sign of better times when people bought plants on a Sunday for their garden; now it’s Destiny Charity Superstore, a trading name of Destiny Community Enterprise, a charity subsidiary of Destiny Ministries.

Yet another church, yards from Glasgow’s biggest Muslim community, is Holy Cross Church. The old church was renovated with a Lottery grant during Father Bancewicz’s ministry. Once the Sisters of the Gospel of Life were installed in their chapel house and Cardinal Winning’s Pro-life initiative took out a lease on Holy Cross Hall in nearby Albert Road, their work commenced with added zeal. Posted on their website is an indication of their foremost concern: “Please pray for a 17-year-old girl, ‘A’, who is pregnant and has an abortion booked for tomorrow”.

This tour wouldn’t be complete without a Free Church, so no surprises that Govanhill Free Church of Scotland, home of the Wee Frees, should be open for business adjacent to the Catholic Church. In a rare and remarkable expression of wanton liberalism, you can even breast-feed your babies here. As well as a toddlers group they advertise English classes for the burgeoning numbers of immigrants, along with soup, sandwiches, sewing machine and internet access. They appear not to want anything from you in return.

Just as unelected religious clerics can take their seats by law on all Scotland’s education committees; the government sanctions doors to be opened for pastors to preach directly to children in schools. Evangelist group Alpha has organised Prayer Spaces in Schools in Scotland Day to recruit converts to do just that. Paul Davie, Alpha Scotland Director claims it’s “spreading”. Their webpage suggests “In four years, six have become 260!” If evangelical groups can’t get into schools, there are reports of buses parked outside, filled with games’ consoles to entice children. But who is blowing the whistle? One parent reported on Secular Scotland’s Facebook group how, in a so-called ‘non-denominational school’, her child was forced to say grace before every meal. Another’s child had to sing in assembly a long hymn in praise of what clearly smacked of ‘Intelligent Design: “Who put the hump upon the camel? Who put the neck on the giraffe? Who put the tail upon the monkey? Who made hyenas laugh…? Who made ev’rything? It surely can’t be chance! God made all of these!” The National Secular Society has reported an increase in such activities. Along with head teachers setting up ‘faith zones’ and ‘worship corners’ in classrooms, they have published reports of pupils being press-ganged into writing prayers; a ‘good school citizen award’ being renamed the ‘good Christian award’ and parents claiming their children being subjected up to 45 minutes of worship every day. In a school where a child was excused from religious studies, a nine-year-old spent it sitting outside the secretary’s office. Another pupil was threatened with expulsion.

If pastors can’t get to children in schools: They’ll build their own. In England, Richmond council handed £10 million of land and assets to the Catholic Church to build one. Despite objections, the Tory council’s leader, Lord True, claimed activists were “using Richmond children as playthings in their ideological campaign to stop church schools”. Our pious education secretary, Michael Gove remains a very h-a-p-p-y chappy and, of course, quite blind to the irony.

A recent event organised by the Brussels-based NGO European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) was told by Swedish MEP Olle Schmidt, that “young minds” were being “moulded and radicalised” in schools and universities. Calling the problem of radicalisation greater than terrorism, he said: “This is a serious problem that threatens our democratic values.”

First Minister, Alex Salmond tries to compromise. To get vaccines against cervical cancer for schoolgirls, he allowed all references to condoms offering protection against sexually transmitted diseases to be removed from safer sex advice to satisfy the Catholic Church. Not just in Catholic schools, all schools! To secure equal marriage, the SNP have promised to tamper with equality laws to ensure the religious won’t ever be taken to court for discriminating behind their own four walls.

Former Archbishop, Lord Carey gasps: “To hear the phrase ‘Christian Britain’ coming from the mouth of (BNP’s) Nick Griffin made me shudder. But it was the former SNP leader and retrenched Presbyterian, Gordon Wilson who compared SNP’s support for gay marriage to ‘state fascism’, the late Cardinal Winning who implied a comparison between gays and Nazis and the former Archbishop, Lord Carey himself, who compared anti-gay campaigners to Jews in Nazi Germany. The BNP is just about the only Party left promising these religious extremists everything they want. Nick Griffin is an Anglican who believes “nations are ordained by God”, is bitterly opposed to “aggressive leftist secularism” and, of course, by default, equal marriage.

Nick Griffin’s shameless courting of religious groups is echoed in a country that once brought theatre to the world. Greek fascist Party, Golden Dawn has won 18 seats in the Greek parliament and flourished to the point that some of its offices have been ordained by Greek Orthodox priests. Golden Dawn MPs accompanied a bishop – who hadn’t even seen the performance – to file a law suit for ‘blasphemy’ against ‘Corpus Christi’ a play written by Terence McNally depicting Jesus and his disciples as gay in Texas. Despite the parents of director, Laertis Vasiliou receiving calls that their son’s body would be delivered to them in pieces, the director and production cast of ‘Corpus Christi’ have been prosecuted. One of the bishops advised Golden Dawn if it changes its style to become more “mature”, they could become a “sweet hope” for desperate Greeks.

In Europe we are witnessing the separation of church and state crumbling. The EU is turning to a Maltese Catholic extremist for the post of European Commissioner. Dr Tonio Borg is Deputy Prime Minister who has adopted stances against abortion and gay cohabitation. In Germany, Angela Merkel, an evangelical church member, told young members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Party, building a multicultural society had “utterly failed”. She added: “The concept that we are now living side by side and are happy about it does not work” and that “we feel attached to the Christian concept of mankind. That is what defines us. Anyone who doesn’t accept that is in the wrong place”.

Am I listening to the echoes of another German chancellor, marching across Europe with ‘Gott Mit Uns’ on their belts, to conquer the world?

Garry Otton