UK Christians Question Westminster Declaration

LONDON – Christian groups have called into question a declaration urging Christians to vote according to their conscience in the U.K. General Election.

The Westminster Declaration urges Christians to vote with three issues particularly in mind – protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience.

It has been signed by more than 36,000 Christians, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey; the head of the Evangelical Alliance, Steve Clifford; and the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien.

The declaration has met with strong criticism from Faithworks, which has stated it will not be signing it.

The influential ministry, which resources Christians for community engagement, criticized the Westminster Declaration for suggesting that "government should be chosen according to their responses to only three issues – protection of human life, marriage and conscience – rather than the impact of the spectrum of their policies locally, nationally and internationally."

According to The Church of England Newspaper, the group said: "The Westminster 2010 Declaration sets Christians up on a moral high ground and implicitly creates divisiveness. It does this at just the time when the church's morality has been called into question across the world."

Senior representatives of the three main parties will be asked to sign the Westminster 2010 pledge, distinct from the declaration, at a major hustings event in Westminster on Monday. The pledge asks that parliamentary candidates "respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience."

Cross-party group, Christians in Politics, also expressed its concerns about the declaration. It said that while there was "much to commend" about Westminster 2010, it added that there was "much to question about its timing, depth and tone."

"It has also been inevitably hampered by the lack of consultation with Christian Parliamentarians and the main Christian groups involved in praying and serving with our political infrastructure," it continued.

"There is also a danger that people will judge the faith of a Christian standing for election, merely by whether or not they have signed this pledge. We urge people not to do so."

Faithworks is encouraging supporters to sign its own Faithworks Declaration, asking that the next Government take steps to ensure that faith-based groups are supported rather than treated with suspicion or discrimination.

The declarations have been issued as Christian groups seek to mobilise the churchgoing portion of the electorate to engage with the General Election.

CARE (Christian Action Research Education) said the number of church hustings events registered on its election website had exceeded all expectations.

"When we set out we hoped we might get 50, never expecting that two weeks into the campaign we would have over 200!" said Nola Leach, CARE's chief executive.

"We continue to be unaware of any larger single source of hustings. It's wonderful to see the church playing such a strategic role during this election."

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