Jesus in Jackboots: God’s Army takes Scotland.
By 2010, the BNP’s Nick Griffin, an Anglican who believes “nations are ordained by God”, was sitting in on an hour-long programme on Christian TV channel, Revelation. By the time he was on Sky News – facing accusations of obtaining lists of email addresses of Christians to win their support in elections – he was sporting a cross in his lapel. But he was yesterday’s man. Nigel Farage (above) and the UKIP had a somewhat more respectable face for the Christian right.
While the Scottish government became inspired by ‘Pause for Thought’ pluralism; the media wallowed in Christian social conservatism and the evangelical organisation, Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) fed interns into both; the far right were setting their sights on pious Scots and positioning themselves for a killing.
Between 1997 and 2000, the Glasgow-based Herald newspaper operated under religious editor, Harry Reid who carried a string of religious columnists. One Free Presbyterian columnist, John MacLeod faced the sack, not for exercising extreme levels of homophobia, like suggesting gays were “simply not equipped to live”, but for suggesting: “Had the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman kept the Lord’s Day, their daughters would still be alive.” (He went on to write for the Scottish Daily Mail which keeps much of its Scottish extreme religious content offline).
Along with most Scottish newspapers, Edinburgh-based Scotland on Sunday vociferously supported the £2m religiously inspired ‘Keep the Clause’ (Section 28) campaign, a law preventing gay people access to appropriate sex education in schools. They employed Gerald Warner, a strident Catholic Tory who writes for both Scotland on Sunday and the Scottish Daily Mail. In the cruel, piecemeal road to full emancipation governments exposed its LGBT citizens, and in the struggle to repeal Section 28, Warner pushed to “safeguard children from sodomite propaganda”. He wrote of a world that had “sunk to unprecedented depths of barbarism and degeneracy” and wanted “less physically robust pupils” put in compulsory male-only youth camps run by servicemen. He mocked advice on safer sex, introducing in his weekly Scotland on Sunday column as “fact”; using condoms for protection was “like driving a golf-ball into a football net.” His proclamations were shrill. After “homofascism” had “aggressively and shamelessly, (became) the ideology of the Scottish Executive and parliament,” he declared, “parliament might be brought to heel by huge, organised manifestations of public discontent” and warned: “The only other option is to organise resistance to the devolved dictatorship… Public opinion would have to mobilise in an extra-parliamentary context. The ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign might prove to be the precursor of more heavyweight crusades… Tanks on the lawn and goose-stepping formations of a People’s Army outside the window are not indispensable accessories to the extinction of democracy…”
When Section 28 was finally repealed, Warner went berserk. “Christ has been supplanted by Mammon and every other horned beast”, he ranted. “This country has sunk to unprecedented depths of barbarism and degeneracy”. He still writes for Scotland on Sunday, recently championing the UKIP before speaking at Celtic Park at the invitation of Catholic Truth, an extreme Catholic group.
The Scotsman prints letters, often daily, from Richard Lucas, an unpopular religious extremist that believes gays can be ‘cured’ and compares rape with being forced to play tennis. On his campaign to exclude marriage for gay couples, Lucas declared no surprise “a party has now emerged (UKIP) reflecting such previously unrepresented views.” He proclaims: “It’s democracy in action – widely held views can only be excluded from the political system for so long.”
No other correspondent enjoys the exposure of Richard Lucas. In the threads that develop under his letters in The Scotsman he brazenly advertises his speaking engagements organised by Solas, another extreme evangelical group linked to the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Zacharias believes there to be inadequate empirical evidence in the fossil records to support the theory of evolution and claims homosexual acts are an “aberration” and “violation” of human sexuality and that though some people may have a homosexual “disposition,” they are not justified in expressing that disposition. (I cannot post on Scotsman threads. My request for an explanation has been ignored but a common method of banning people on sites is mass reporting).
The attitude of bullish Christian supremacy manufactured particularly well by the Daily Mail and Telegraph, and the growing frustration against Islam, is polarising views both for and against religion. In such a climate, extremism thrives.
As soon as SNP won the election in 2007, First Minister, Alex Salmond threw open the doors of his official residence, Bute House to Muslim leaders. The following year, along with grants to many other religious organisations, the SNP awarded £215,000 of public funds to the Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF), led by the SNP’s parliamentary candidate for Glasgow Central, Osama Saeed and his family members. A large part of the funding was for an IslamFest. Saeed was criticised for supporting a world coalition of Shari’a states, separate Islamic schools and publishing a link to anti-gay group Eye on Gay Muslims on his blog which advised: “It is all sinful. Understand Islam properly, realise that even the identity of being ‘gay’ is problematic and un-Islamic, and repent to Allah, who is Forgiving, Merciful.” The IslamFest never came off, but preparations for a new mosque and an Islamic secondary school in Glasgow were soon underway.
The New Life Christian Fellowship in Broxburn warns parents of children of pre-school age: “Little Children’s Church is NOT simply a crèche where little ones are looked after.” It’s a place where children “learn about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.” The church is a member of a Child Protection Policy approved by the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service. The church deplores “unbelief” which they claim is a hindrance to supernatural healing and gives examples, such as Lorna, a woman eight years into a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis who claims she had thrown her medication into the bin a day after ‘healing’ before walking around in high heels.
Kairos Church in Peterhead conduct Alpha courses, have an inevitable crèche, a ‘hands-on-Bible’ curriculum for children from five to 11, while adults attend services speaking in “other tongues”.
The Destiny Church in Glasgow boasts ‘cells’ or ‘growth’ groups and also welcomes under-fives to “listen to stories.” Destiny paid over £2m for a former Clydesdale Bank building in Townhead before opening a charity superstore in the former Dobbies Garden Centre outside Paisley.
The Scripture Union already has access to children in schools. They claim on their website: “We have a team of 30 highly creative regional and associate staff who work in primary and secondary schools across Scotland.” They proclaim: “Jesus Christ as Lord and God… as Victor over Satan and all his forces.”
Then there are the Challenger buses run by People with a Mission Ministries, parking outside primary schools. At least two of the buses contain computer stations, evangelistic DVD’s, and presentations. The upstairs area contains a coffee lounge area with a 46” flat screen TV with surround sound, as well as a mini-cinema in the front half of the buses. Their website boasts: “In subsequent Friday visits the average number of youth attending the bus was around 12 with two or three making a commitment to Christianity.” The Ministries sell and endorse Answers, a monthly periodical from the infamous “Answers in Genesis”; a well-known anti-science and young Earth creationism ministry which holds regular conferences in Scotland.
A so-called non-denominational school in East Kilbride, Calderglen High School has a seven-member chaplaincy team providing a “key resource” to their curriculum, including Answer in Genesis supporter, Egyptian-born Dr Nagy Iskander from Westwoodhill Evangelical Church who believes Genesis should be taught as fact. After the council elections, by government edict, every one of the 32 Scottish councils open their back doors and let three unelected religious clerics or affiliates sit on their education committees. All except for the western isles and Shetlands: They must have four. Dr Iskander sits on the education Committee of South Lanarkshire.
Not every cleric receives a rapturous welcome in Scotland. In May 2013, in Raploch, Stirling, Pastor Soloman Makhathoela was in court for calling his neighbour Catherine Kerr “white scum” after learning the mum-of-two wasn’t wed. He was reported in the Scottish Sun telling her that in his country her kids “would be shot and hung” before turning on her fiancé, Alan Brown, to tell him “it was a fucking disgrace they had kids out of wedlock.”
In the same month in Paisley, coaches offloaded almost 200 children from schools across the Catholic diocese to hear US abstinence-only Christian zealot, Pam Stenzel fill their young minds with guilt and dread; telling them condoms are not safe and warning them anyone who had more than one lifetime sexual partner would pay with death and disease. She illustrated her point by holding a gun to her head. Her qualifications to do this are nothing more than an undergraduate degree in psychology from Jerry Falwell’s creationist ‘Liberty University’. Falwell is famous for suggesting Teletubby’s purple Tinky Winky was a gay icon, founding the notorious Moral Majority and delivering two-thirds of the white, evangelical Christian vote to Ronald Reagan. Fallwell’s alumna, Pam Stenzel runs a profitable business earning in 2011 a quarter-of-a-million dollars. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) warn, “Stenzel relies on inaccurate statistics and passes off gross exaggerations and complete falsehoods as fact.” St Andrew’s Academy met the cost of Ms Stenzel’s return flights from Belfast where she had been talking to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly at the invitation of Precious Life.
Despite protestations all children had permission from parents to be subjected to Stenzel’s rant, the first child I spoke to, sporting a St Ninian’s blazer, told me he had been sent by his teacher. Pam Stenzel is not interested in the truth. In a speech to a fundamentalist conference called “Reclaiming America for Christ” in 2003, she rejected the idea that abstinence education be judged by its effectiveness. “Can I beg you to commit yourself to truth, not what works! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day I’m not answering to you, I’m answering to God!”
Once Stenzel had finished with the children at St Andrews Academy in Paisley, one of her traumatised victims was reported in the Daily Record needing extensive counselling. Despite this, having filmed the lecture ‘for curricular use”, the school insisted it would still use excerpts in their Religious Education programme.
In the same week, Michael Voris, a Church Militant TV presenter, was invited to talk to 150 hard-core Catholics at Carfin Grotto outside Motherwell.
I spoke to a young man in his early twenties who had been brought along by the leader of his church peer group. He had been shown Voris on the internet. Passionately defensive of Catholicism, he said it had rescued him from depression, suicide and pornography. He told me Voris inspired him.
In typical Bible-belt fashion, Voris is in the Ted Haggard tradition; an unmarried Catholic apologist from Texas in a suit and tie, toupee and tan. He dismisses global warming as “pseudoscience and hyper-sensationalism” and brands many of the Catholic clerical hierarchy, “namby-pamby”. He fears the Catholic Church has been “falling apart” and wants “muscular Catholicism that isn’t afraid to encourage battle and sacrifice.” He tells his audience: “We have such an intense relationship for Him we would die for Him.” And that pretty much confirms his somewhat desperate response to the collapse of the Catholic Church. “The job of the Church is not to make soup kitchens,” he scoffs, “but to make saints.” Voris reminds the faithful: “The Catholic Church isn’t about feelings.”
Perhaps he’s right and we have been too sentimental about religion.
Garry Otton 2013.
Read ‘First They Came for the Homosexuals’ Part One – /?p=254