Christian MPs came out in overwhelming numbers last night to support the war with Iraq, raising questions about whether they can claim to ërepresentí churches in the UK in any meaninful sense.
Voting against an amendment, which suggested that the case for war had not yet been established in the absence of specific UN authorisation, Christians from a range of church traditions and backgrounds went through the lobbies in large numbers to support the Government.
Although an amendment against war was tabled by a member of the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) former minister Chris Smith, only eight out of the 35 MPs who belong to CSM ñ David Drew, Win Griffiths, John Grogan, Martyn Jones, Peter Pike, Kerry Pollard, John Battle and David Taylor ñ voted to support it. The rest either voted against or abstained.
Many prominent Catholics from across the parties also voted with the Government, despite the Pope's outspoken opposition to war. They included David Amess, Julian Brazier and Ann Widdecombe. Other well known ìPro-lifersî were out in great numbers too, expressing support for war, including Ann Winterton and her husband Nicholas.
Even amongst the cross-party prayer group of six MPs, nicknamed the 'G6', most were in favour of military action. The group which began to meet in 1997 is made up of two Labour, two Conservatives, one Liberal Democrat and one Ulster Unionist MP. These MPs would place themselves within the ìEvangelicalî camp.
Evangelicals however were no exception as they went through the lobbies with their colleagues from different traditions. Evangelicals voting with the Government included Alistair Burt, Andrew Selous, Gary Streeter, Stephen Timms, Caroline Spelman, and Ulster Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson.
It was hard to find any Christians at all who voted against military action. The notable exception being several Liberal Democrats including Simon Hughes.
The fact that so many Christians voted with the Government on what was seen as an issue of conscience, will raise questions about the recent efforts of the Christian groupings in Parliament to 'listen to' and represent the churches.
It is rare that so many church leaders speak with such a united voice on any issue. But the consistent and sustained opposition to war with Iraq by so many churches seems to have failed to influence MPs.
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles pose a threat to international peace; Iraq has not co- operated "actively, unconditionally and immediately" with the weapons inspectors and has rejected the final opportunity to comply; the UK seeks a new UN Security Council resolution on the rebuilding of Iraq, and welcomes the imminent publication of a road-map toward a "just and lasting peace settlement" for Israel.
The case for war against Iraq has not yet been established, especially given the absence of specific UN authorisation; but total support will be given to British forces if hostilities do commence.