Siobhain McDonagh MP the 'secularist' ?

By Jonathan Bartley
March 5, 2010

Cranmer has drawn attention to allegations about a Methodist lay minister, councillor George Reynolds, who has been “deselected as a candidate in the forthcoming local elections not because he objected to canvassing on the Sabbath on grounds of religious conscience, but because, as a pastor of his church, he is obliged to tend for his flock on Sundays”.

Cranmer concludes from this:

“Siobhain McDonagh is the immanent incarnation of the imminent persecution of all believers."

“This is one of the most outrageous anti-Christian manifestations of this appallingly oppressive and illiberal Labour Government.”

“In the pursuit of her rabid secularisation agenda desperate attempt to be re-elected, it is the traditional Christian Sabbath which has to be defiled; it is Christian devotion which is subsumed; it is Christian ministry which is considered expendable.”

A friend has just spoken to George Reynolds, the councillor concerned, and reports:

"Although he was a Methodist lay pastor and a local preacher, he has recently been ordained as a minister of the AME Church of Zion and no longer holds any office with the Methodist Church. In his opinion this is why he was deselected – he refuses to canvass at all on a Sunday – but no one has directly told him that this is the reason."

So he is not a Methodist (update 19.02 for clarification a member of the main Methodist church in the UK) any longer. His situation has changed, and there seems to be a lot of speculation going on.

But putting aside whether the story as Cranmer reports it is true or not, does the idea that Siobhain McDonagh is on some kind of anti-Christian campaign square up with Siobhain McDonagh’s record?

Siobhain McDonagh is a Catholic. She has been a longstanding member of the Christian Socialist Movement (which she links to from her website describing it as a "site for Labour supporters who are also Christians, believing that Christian teaching should be reflected in social laws and institutions".

She has employed former Roman Catholic Priest, and Director of the Christian Social Movement, David Cairns (now an MP) in her own office.

Before becoming an MP, she worked for Battersea Churches Housing Trust from 1988-97.

Jane Savill, Religious Education Adviser at the Diocese of London, has described Siobhain's faith on the website of the Christian Evidence Society in the following terms:

"Siobhain was elected to represent Mitcham and Morden in 1997. Siobhain grew up in the area and has always lived in the Constituency. Siobhain is a practising Catholic. Her faith and politics are both very important to her.

"For Siobhain, being a Christian is looking outwards on a personal level. She believes that Christianity explains the reason for our very existence and gives us the opportunity to realise that there is something beyond our own selves."

"Siobhain hopes that through her daily life as well as in her work as a politician she can serve the community in which she lives and help society in the way that Jesus taught."

But perhaps the most interesting thing is that she has actively pursued the removal of legal discrimination against Christians. She introduced the Clergy Disqualification Ten Minute Rule Bill seeking to remove prohibitions on clergy standing for Parliament. In her speech she urged the Government to “tidy up blatantly discriminatory measures in its ancient law” which discriminated against priests and clergy. The law was subsequently changed.

The facts about Siobhain McDonagh speak for themselves.

[Update 20.29 Cranmer has suggested I am defending her faith here. I have tweeted back, pointing out that is not what we are doing. We have no special insight into her faith. We are simply pointing out that he is clearly entirely wrong to suggest she is anti-Christian.]


[Update 18.45 HT to for pointing out the following now on Cranmer's blog:

"I am Siobhain McDonagh, and I would like to confirm that this whole story is completely untrue. It is also deeply offensive and should therefore be removed.

"Most offensively, it suggests I am anti-religion. Anyone who knows anything about me would be aware I am a Catholic who goes to church assiduously every Sunday. I am very angry that you have portrayed me as conspiring against anyone for their beliefs or religious observances. What you have written about me is hurtful and 100% false. It is hard to believe anybody with any true religious belief could be so nasty as you have been in your blog, or could so deliberately damage another person’s reputation without checking any facts.

"Your source is utterly unreliable. He cannot even spell my name correctly. This should have been a clue.

"Indeed, the story is completely untrue. To be clear, the rules of the Labour Party expressly forbid exclusion on religious grounds, and neither can any individual veto anyone else from standing. In any case, in the fact of this case, Cllr Reynolds has never been excluded from standing, and his religious beliefs and commitments never arose during the selection process. This wouldn’t have been allowed anyway.

"The simple truth is that, while they praised Cllr Reynolds for his past efforts as a Councillor, local Labour Party members ultimately chose other candidates. And at all stages it is Labour Party members who choose who they want their candidates to be, not MPs, with the decision made by secret ballot. But since the source of this story seems to have been a Conservative candidate, he wouldn't know that.

"This whole story is politically motivated smearing, with no bearing in truth whatsoever, and you should take it down. It is completely untrue, causes great offence to the many Christian Labour activists who give up so much of their time to help their communities, and should be of great embarrassment to you.

"It is very upsetting to be accused of anti-religious bigotry, and I hope you will be brave enough to apologise for airing this untrue story and for portraying me in the way you have. I also hope that you will retract the accusations completely so that they are not continuously repeated on other blogs or elsewhere.

"Yours sincerely,

"Siobhain McDonagh" ]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.