The British Christian Right

Alex Henderson
In May 2008, Channel 4 in the U.K. aired investigative reporter David Modell's documentary "In God's Name," which examined the growth of far-right Christian fundamentalist pressure groups in Great Britain. Modell's documentary came as a surprise to many viewers, who associate militant Christian fundamentalism with the U.S. rather than the British Isles. But the U.K. does, in fact, have a politicized Christian fundamentalist movement that is modeling itself after American organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition — and like their American counterparts they hope to pressure politicians into supporting legislation that is antiporn, antiabortion and anti-gay.

One of the Christian fundamentalists interviewed in Modell's documentary was attorney and lobbyist Andrea Minichiello Williams, who is director of public policy for the 150-year-old Lawyers' Christian Fellowship and heads her own organization called Christian Concern for Our Nation. Other Christian right pressure groups in the U.K. include the Christian Institute; Christian Voice, headed by Stephen Green; and Christian Action Research and Education. Like James Dobson or Pat Robertson in the U.S., Williams and Green believe that there should be no separation of church and state. But how much progress is the Christian right likely to make in the U.K.?

Sir Guy Masterleigh, a veteran BDSM entrepreneur based in Hereford, England, has been selling erotic magazines and books for 20 years. He told XBIZ that so far, Britain's Christian right has been marginal compared to America's Christian right. But he stressed that anyone who is operating an adult business in the U.K. should keep a close eye on them.

"Basically, America exports almost everything that it does, and it is exporting Christian fundamentalism over here," Masterleigh explained. "The shit that you have in America with the antiabortion fanatics is coming over here. These groups in the U.K. are largely funded by American churches and American money, and the organizers are either Americans or are trained by Americans. Obviously, the people they are recruiting are British — or sometimes, immigrants to Britain — but they are largely powered by American money. We sent people like that out to America in the 17th century and now they're coming back."

Masterleigh continued: "The Christian right here in the U.K. is not in the driving seat. They don't have anything like the numbers that they do in the States, but they do have the ear of politicians."

U.K.-based author Daryl Champion, who wrote the political book "The Paradoxical Kingdom: Saudi Arabia and the Momentum of Reform" and has been a contributing editor to the London-based fetish publication Skin Two, said that there has been a great deal of antiporn lobbying in the U.K. since the new millenium began, but he stressed that Christian fundamentalists are hardly the only people that British porn companies need to be worried about. In fact, Champion said, some of Britain's most strident antiporn activity has come from the Labour Party. Many LP members, he pointed out, have been strong supporters of the U.K.'s draconian "extreme porn law" — which becomes enforceable in January 2009 and makes it a felony, punishable by three years in prison, to possess images of what politicians have loosely described as "extreme pornography."

"New Labour has been one of the most deceitful, covertly authoritarian political forces in modern British history," Champion asserted. "At least with the Conservative governments of the Margaret Thatcher era, people knew what they were getting."

The extreme porn law takes obscenity prosecution to a whole new level in England and Wales by targeting mere possession — as opposed to production and distribution. Because of that law, Masterleigh has decided that he will quit selling adult books and magazines in the U.K. Masterleigh, who is considering moving his business to France, said in November: "At the moment, if I buy boxes of porn magazines from somebody and find something that I think is illegal to resell under the Obscene Publications Act in the U.K., I won't resell it to people here. But when this new extreme porn law comes in, I can be prosecuted for anything I might have in those books and magazines and for anything that might be on my computer even if I never had any idea it was there. I get a lot of spam, and it is entirely conceivable that some European publisher or distributor might send me a spam email, trying to sell me their publications, with pictures of their publications attached to their spam. Even if it falls into the spam trap and I never see it, I would be committing an offense if I haven't erased that email and the attached picture. How can I do business under those circumstances?"

John Ozimek, who has been covering civil liberties issues for the British technology and news website The Register, said that so far the Christian right hasn't been nearly as influential in U.K. politics as it has been in U.S. politics. He believes that presently, British porn companies have a lot more to fear from New Labour — who he described as "liberal prudes" — than they do from U.S.-style Christian fundamentalists. "My view is that New Labour is presiding over a shift in British values towards the puritan," Ozimek said.

In the U.S., a long list of Republican politicians has been in lockstep with the Christian right. But Ozimek said that in the U.K., neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party, aka the Tories, is a perfect fit for Christian fundamentalists.

"In the United States," Ozimek said, "antiporn and antiabortion tend to go hand in hand; here in the U.K. they don't." He continued, explaining that the Labour Party is antiporn but pro-choice, and that the Tories "are probably split evenly on abortion — or more evenly than Labour — but are much more pro-pornography."

If Christian fundamentalists think that New Labour and the Tories don't support enough of their causes, one option is to start their own parties. The Rev. George Hargreaves, a former disco-dance and pop songwriter turned far-right Pentecostal, did exactly that in 2005, when he founded the U.K.'s small but very vocal Christian Party, whose candidates have been vehemently antiporn, anti-gay and antiabortion. On the Christian Party's website, Hargreaves mirrors the rhetoric of the American Christian right and berates U.S. President-elect Barack Obama for embracing the "vicious anti-life agenda of Washington's abortionist elite."

Champion fears that things will continue to get worse for adult companies in Great Britain. The U.K., he believes, is moving in an increasingly authoritarian direction — and whether the call for antiporn legislation comes from radical feminists on the left or from far-right Christian fundamentalists, he expects to see an abundance of aggressive obscenity prosecutions in the U.K. in the future.

"Radical feminists and the Christian right oppose all pornography because they believe it degrades women by its very existence," Champion noted. "Their position is to have all porn banned and its production and distribution to be criminalized … The sociopolitical environment here is becoming more conservative and is being fed by scare campaigns about social deviance and public security. This is an environment in which radical right-wing views, including the religious, flourish. Thus, I can only see more heavy-handed and restrictive censorship over the horizon — across the board — as conservative politicians from both the major parties find more common ground with the religious right."