The husband of Philippa Stroud, Tory candidate for Sutton and Cheam, who has hit the headlines for her alleged involvement in a church that promotes “exorcism” for gay and bisexual people, has signed a controversial Christian declaration for the general election - one which has been condemned by Conservatives, among others.
David Stroud, a leader in the New Frontiers Church, has put his name to the Westminster Declaration – a statement from socially conservative Christians which, alongside other matters, advocates that a narrow version of religious conscience should trump other people’s rights and freedoms in the public sphere.
According to the teaching of her church, Mrs Stroud is subject to the views of her male spouse. The Church teaches that a husband has ‘authority’ over his wife, and that a wife should ‘joyfully’ submit to a husband's will in all things.
The Westminster Declaration is an attempt to win greater recognition and respect by politicians and society for what its supporters – including the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey and former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, as well as some vocal pressure groups – regard as Christian values. They seek to have these implemented as public policy in Britain.
It has however been condemned by Christians in the Conservative party, as well as other parties. Conservative MP Alistair Burt MP is amongst those who have been outspoken in their criticism of it.
The Declaration has received significant media attention in the run-up to the 2010 UK General Election, and is being used as a rallying point for socially conservative Christians – some of whom believe that if the law does not uphold their own views on issues like civil partnerships, equality and bio-medical concerns, then Christianity is being ‘marginalised’ or ‘persecuted’.
However, in a paper published today, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia offers a critique of the Declaration, suggesting that it is a flawed document.
“Some of the theology which underpins it is highly questionable. Where it is specific on policy issues some of the proposals are impractical or unhelpfully partial, and it may do more harm than good to the church,” says author Savitri Hensman, a Christian commentator with expertise in equality and social care issues.
David Stroud, who is designated as "Leader, Newfrontiers family of Churches in the UK" is listed among the signatories of the Westminster Declaration.
This raises further questions about the views of Mrs Stroud’s church and the impact they may have on her willingness to ensure fair treatment for members of the public and constituents whose lifestyle and condition she may regards as sinful.
Stroud said in a statement: "It is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that The Observer has suggested otherwise. I have spent 20 years working with disturbed people who society have turned their back on and are not often supported by state agencies; drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill and the homeless that I and my charitable friends in the public sector have tried to help over the years. The idea that I am prejudiced against gay people is both false and insulting.”
She did not deny that she thought homosexuality was sinful and wrong.
The issue has also been raised about whether, if elected, her stance or voting would be subject to the views of her unelected husband.
Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, asked recently: “Who would voters be electing in Sutton and Cheam - Philippa Stroud or her husband? The question must be asked whether, in the event she was elected to Parliament, she would on any occasion ‘submit’ to her husband's will and vote in a way that he thought was right, even if it contradicted her own position, the promises she had made to voters, or the manifesto on which she was elected?”
Ekklesia’s paper on the Westminster Declaration comments: “It seems that many people (even some of the signatories) have not fully grasped the implications of the Westminster Declaration view that individual ‘conscience’ – which in principle could be rooted in a number of different or entirely contradictory beliefs – should automatically be able to trump other people’s rights and choices, the law and social/employment obligations.
"If, say, a doctor could refuse to treat a very sick patient’s civil partner as next of kin, why should not a nurse who was a Jehovah’s Witness refuse a blood transfusion to another patient? It is probable that many of those lobbying for this cause would not themselves use the freedoms they demand in such a way, and might at least insist that others should follow the law, but the provision for quite unreasonable and unjust applications is evident.”
See: ‘The Westminster Declaration: a considered critique’ - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12060