Reflections on the UKIP Christian Manifesto

By Virginia Moffatt
May 1, 2015

This week UKIP published its Christian manifesto outlining its approach to issues it believes Christians care about. I’ve spent the last few days going through the document to see how it stacks up as a manifesto that Christians could support. Here’s what I found.

Freedom of worship

UKIP believe Christians and people of other faiths have the right to worship within limits of common law. This is indeed a good representation of Christian acceptance of others. So it’s a shame that Nigel Farage’s recent description of some Muslims being a "fifth column" who want to "kill us", undermines such tolerance.

Family

The manifesto clearly supports ‘traditional families’ by ensuring transferable tax allowances for married couples and civil partners. To ensure fathers don’t lose touch with children the party will ensure 50:50 parental split in child custody arrangements. Such an approach favours a very old fashioned view of family life – the ideal of the perfect ‘Christian’ family: a married heterosexual cisgender couple with children. There is no room here for blended families, single parents, gay and transgender parents. I’m hazarding a guess here, but don’t you think the Jesus who welcomed Mary Magdalene, and stood up for the adulterous woman might have a broader view of family life? Furthermore the 50:50 custody presumption could be dangerous in situations of domestic violence or child abuse (particularly in situations where the perpetrator has money and good lawyers). I have a feeling Jesus might have something to say about that too.

Same sex marriage

UKIP believes that same sex marriage is wrong. Whilst they won’t undo the legislation they will extend the law so people in ‘conscience’ can express their views on this. Such an approach opens the way for business owners to discriminate against gay couples – behaviour most Christians would find problematic.

Euthanasia and abortion

Right to life issues are critical for many (though not all) Christians. UKIP’s position of no bill to support assisted dying/suicide would therefore be welcomed by most. Given how many Christian groups campaign on it, it is a little surprising that there’s no challenge to the Abortion Act. However, ensuring gender abortions are illegal is likely to be received well.

Human trafficking

UKIP is right to condemn this. All Christians (and indeed all decent human beings) should be against this practice. However leaving the EU won’t stop trafficking and is likely to hinder attempts to arrest perpetrators as it will reduce opportunities for cooperation with EU police forces.

Economic growth

When we follow Jesus’ exhortation in Luke:3:11 to share food and clothing, we can see that economic growth that sustains everyone is worth pursuing. So the manifesto is right to promise economic growth and highlight the need to support disabled people, the NHS and education. However, the suggestion that leaving the EU will miraculously improve economic growth is flawed and may make things worse.

NHS

UKIP’s pledge for more money and resources for the NHS is appealing. However, this is another issue where the party’s promises seem out of kilter with their public utterances. Nigel Farage has publicly stated the NHS should move from state funding to private funding, a principle that undermines its basis. If he still holds such beliefs, does it render his manifesto commitments meaningless?

Education

Some of UKIP’s positions on education would seem reasonable to Christians. They support faith schools as long as they are open to all and they propose broad religious education. However, the commitment to different types of schools in towns (grammar, vocational, specialist) runs the risk of promoting segregation, a very un-Christian principle. Whilst the banning of sex education in primary schools is likely to create a generation of children who are ill-informed which could lead to kind of poor decision making on sex most of us would want to avoid.

Welfare

Like all the mainstream parties, UKIP is supporting the benefit cap. This is a deeply unChristian policy as it is a punitive measure that hits poor people hard. A more positive idea is the promise to take people out of taxes to end poverty however it probably won't help the poorest. Whilst ending fuel poverty is welcome, taking the money from green levies is short sighted given the dangers of climate change. Christians will approve of scrapping bedroom tax, enforcing minimum wage and stopping zero hours contracts, though the approach does seem piecemeal.

Homelessness

It is good to see a recognition that homeless people should be entitled to benefits (a positive step away from ‘scrounger’ rhetoric). A house-building programme is needed (though it is not specified whether this includes social housing), whilst stopping unfair evictions would help. Given the problems veterans face on leaving the military, the commitment to eight half-way houses per year and 500 new homes for ex-military personnel seems a fair idea.

Foodbanks

The recognition that people come to foodbanks with a variety of problems is helpful. So the idea of 800 advisors for foodbanks is a good one. However, there is no question of why foodbanks exist, or understanding that low wages and benefit sanctions that have fuelled their rise. Nor is any thought given to the feelings of deep humiliation that can come from having to go to the foodbank. A more Christian approach would tackle the root causes of foodbanks, whilst supporting them until they are no longer necessary.

Foreign aid

UKIP is opposed to foreign aid, and will divert it to deal with UK poverty, because "charity begins at home". As Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12:25, ‘ there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another’. The idea that we are only responsible for our fellow UK citizens and not for the whole world should be an anathema to most Christians. And again UKIP’s idea that free trade outside the EU will tackle poverty in the world, is not borne out by the facts as this Christian Aid paper illustrates.

Church repairs

UKIP’s pledge to cut on VAT for church repairs to five per cent and reduce it further if Britain leaves the EU, will benefit parishes with big buildings to maintain. However, church is about more than property, so whilst this will be helpful for individual parishes, I’d suggest there are more important issues for Christians to consider when voting.

Having looked at this manifesto in some detail, I’d conclude that, although there are some positive policies that Christians could endorse –such as scrapping the bedroom tax or advisors in foodbanks – the document lacks a strategic approach to the problems we face. There is no attempt to question the underlying causes of poverty and inequality in the UK nor the impact of austerity. Given that UKIP has many extremely wealthy donors, whose businesses maybe contributing to inequality, I am left wondering if the measures suggested represent deeply held values or are included because they will be popular.

In addition, there are some equally unChristian sentiments lurking beneath the fine words. The manifesto promise to allow Christians running businesses to use their "conscience" when choosing who they serve, could lead to discrimination against gay people. The proposal for the benefit cap harms the poorest. Whilst the ban on foreign aid is completely counter to the Christian mission to take care of each member of the body of Christ.

Overall, the thrust of the document appears to be underlined by UKIP’s core belief that the EU is damaging for Britain and that we will be a fairer, richer, more Christian country if we left. However, the evidence clearly demonstrates this core belief to be false . As for the notion that isolating ourselves from our European neighbours is in keeping with Christian values, I'd say that whatever Bible Nigel Farage is reading, it’s not one I recognise. I doubt many Christians will recognise it either.

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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© Virginia Moffatt is chief operating officer of Ekklesia. Before working for Ekklesia, she spent 30 years working in services for people with learning disabilities, most recently for Oxfordshire County Council.

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.