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Evangelicals have become this century’s witch burners

The Church of England faces a struggle with its own Militant Tendency

By Giles Fraser

Evangelicals may have won the battle over Jeffrey John’s appointment to Reading, but many of those attending the general synod at York are waking up to a deeper problem: the word evangelical is now firmly linked in the public imagination with intolerance and bigotry.

How did it come to this? In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the evangelical movement had a reasonable claim to be the social conscience of the nation. Evangelical Christianity was behind Wilberforce’s successful campaign to abolish slavery. Elizabeth Fry and John Howard fought for prison reform and Lord Shaftesbury put a stop to children being sent down mines and up chimneys. It was a tradition that influenced many of the founders of the Labour party and trades union movement.

Evangelicals define themselves by a love of the Bible. It is thus a tragedy for all Christians that they are now seen as the nasty party. Indeed, some moderate evangelical churches have become so concerned about the association between “evangelical” and a narrow theological chauvinism that they are thinking of dropping the word. They are right to be worried, for in recent years a virulent form of rightwing Christian fundamentalism has infiltrated the evangelical movement. And they are obsessed with gay sex.

Many protest at the description homophobic – though anyone still in doubt that prejudice of the most disgraceful kind is at work here ought to visit www.godhatesfags.com. The arguments and biblical references found there are those used by evangelicals who mask their hatred behind that helpful Christian smile.

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