Evangelical leader unhappy with focus on 'eccentric fringe'

By staff writers
28 May 2008

The outgoing leader of the Evangelical Alliance has urged programme makers not to focus on the 'eccentric fringe' of Evangelicalism, who he said was the focus of a recent Channel 4 documentary examining the rise of fundamentalism in the UK.

His comments came in an open letter to Channel 4 following the broadcast of 'In God's Name', which expressed 'disappointment' at the way the Dispatches programme which prominently featured the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship and Christian Voice, was made.

In the letter Edwards labelled Stephen Green of Christian Voice an "extremist". He also said that Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship may have been "naïve and controversial", although he went on to defend her actions as legitimate and transparent.

But he said that the two were part of the "eccentric fringe" of Evangelicalism, and did not show the whole picture.

In the programme Williams was shown lobbying Lord Tebbit to table amendments in the House of Lords aimed at cutting the time limit for abortion, and also revealed that Williams believed in a literal six day creation of the world.

In the open letter Edwards said: "Stephen Green, a key example given of this fundamentalist movement, is an extremist. The vast majority of Christians who watched last night would, like me, have recoiled in horror at some of the statements he made.

"The kind of fundamentalism shown by Stephen is not growing in the UK. Unfortunately, the oxygen of publicity provided by the media has exaggerated his influence. What is increasing is a movement of evangelicals, which currently numbers around two million.

"This group of people is hugely diverse, with a spectrum of political and theological leanings. Some, including Andrea Minichiello Williams, are active political citizens who lobby passionately on issues they believe are important for the public good.

"This is how a healthy democracy operates, and while Andrea may have been naïve and controversial in Dispatches, her actions were a legitimate and transparent part of the political process."

"Dispatches is a hugely influential programme, so next time it tries to tackle modern Christianity, I would invite its producers to take an honest look at the full story rather than predicting a burgeoning trend on the actions of the eccentric fringe."

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Mr Duncan,

I watched this week’s (May 19) Channel 4 Dispatches programme, In God’s Name, with a strong sense of disappointment.

Dispatches has a reputation for being selective and sensationalist, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been shocked. But as someone at the heart of the Christian community, I simply didn’t recognise the claims it made – echoed in the Sunday Telegraph – about a growing band of Christian fundamentalists trying to impose their will on society.

Stephen Green, a key example given of this fundamentalist movement, is an extremist. The vast majority of Christians who watched last night would, like me, have recoiled in horror at some of the statements he made.

The kind of fundamentalism shown by Stephen is not growing in the UK. Unfortunately, the oxygen of publicity provided by the media has exaggerated his influence. What is increasing is a movement of evangelicals, which currently numbers around two million.

This group of people is hugely diverse, with a spectrum of political and theological leanings. Some, including Andrea Minichiello Williams, are active political citizens who lobby passionately on issues they believe are important for the public good. Christians are active on issues of poverty, debt, freedom of speech, the environment and more.

This is how a healthy democracy operates, and while Andrea may have been naïve and controversial in Dispatches, her actions were a legitimate and transparent part of the political process.

Dispatches is a hugely influential programme, so next time it tries to tackle modern Christianity, I would invite its producers to take an honest look at the full story rather than predicting a burgeoning trend on the actions of the eccentric fringe.

Rev Joel Edwards
General Director, Evangelical Alliance

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