Could the Christian Right Gain Power in the UK?

David Modell’s 2008 documentary for Channel 4, In God’s Name, is one of the most astonishing pieces of television I’ve seen. He visits an ACE school and actually has film of the lessons. Given that Christian Education Europe refused even to comment to the Scottish Herald about the content of the PACEs, I can’t imagine it will happen again.

The segment in the ACE school, Carmel (in Bristol), is under five minutes long. Watch it soon; this particular documentary has already been taken down from YouTube several times. It’s well worth watching the whole thing; it’s a staggering insight into life as a British fundamentalist. The minute immediately preceding the Carmel school segment (which is at 5 minutes, 55 seconds) is particularly enlightening.

I actually attended the church, Carmel, which provides the focus for the first half of the documentary, and used to play in their worship band. Its pastor, Gerri Di Somma, had the worst anger management problem I’ve ever encountered. When I publish my book, I don’t know what will happen to the material on Carmel; everything I remember would make a publisher’s legal department have a seizure. There was a story about Mr. Di Somma at, but I see that all the posts on that blog have been deleted. Never fear; it’s still (for the moment at least), in google’s cache. It’s about when Di Somma was a teacher at Rhema Bible Training Centre, South Africa, before he started his church in Bristol:

“I was also very soon to discover, that the greatest grievance of my soul within the church – that of favouritism, was even more prevalent at Bible School.  If “unacceptables” got wheedled out of the church very swiftly, Bible School was far more accomplished at this practice.

The hardest test in my lesson of “non-reaction” came in 2nd year.  There’s a course called “Lab” when all the students get to test their preaching ability.  It was quite a nerve-racking experience for most of us who were not accustomed to public speaking.

Among our class members was a young coloured man with a tortuous stutter. Occasionally he’d speak reasonably well and unhindered, but most times he simply spluttered along.  It could become quite painful trying to converse with him.  When his turn came for lab, I wondered how he would fare.  Needless to say, his nerves got in the way.  He stammered and stuttered and scarcely managed one intelligible word.

Gerri di Somma was the lecturer who had to judge the message.  He rose and walked ominously over to the pulpit.  Then, in front of the whole class he glared down at this poor young man.

“Never, ever have I heard such rubbish!  Don’t tell me that exhibition was necessary. I’ve heard you speaking well before today.  You’re just doing this to get attention!  To get sympathy!  Or did you think you could get out of doing your lab that easily?”

He went on and on maligning him in front of the class.  Like many of the students, I had an overpowering desire to leave Bible School.  To protest.  To slap Gerri di Somma.

I did none of those things.  I forgave him.  He had other endearing ways.  He was just a bull in a china shop sometimes.  The other students curbed their indignation too.  But nothing could stop my heart from hurting.  I went to the bathroom and cried, “Dear God, where is the love in this place?”

If you’re unable to watch the documentary now, here’s what the pupils at Carmel get told by their supervisor in the documentary:

Supervisor: “Before Jesus came, people who sinned died. People who disobeyed God turned into a pillar of salt. So thank God for Jesus, because we can actually say ‘Jesus, I’m sorry, I did something wrong then,’ and we don’t have to fear turning into a pillar of salt, which really really really happened in the Old Testament. Dominique?”

Little girl: “And we don’t also have to get sucked up into the earth like the Israelites.”

Supervisor: “They did, they did. There were some Israelites that got sucked up into the ground. The ground swallowed them up. And when they were in the desert, God thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’m looking after them and they’re moaning,’ so He sent snakes to bite them.”

It’s incredible, isn’t it? If I hadn’t attended the church myself, I might have struggled to believe that. As for you, well, I wouldn’t expect you to believe it at all, if Modell hadn’t captured it on camera.

The rest of the documentary is equally outstanding, but I think the threatening tone taken throughout is slightly lacking in credibility. The premise is that the Christian Right is on the march in the UK, funded by powerful Christian Right groups in the US, and we should all be afraid. I don’t think this is entirely realistic. Certainly, I think Modell’s portrayal is accurate, and there are politically motivated fundamentalist groups in the UK. I just don’t think there’s a big risk of them getting traction. So far, they’ve failed to organise any major block voting. I remember a story in the press some years ago about the Christian group joining their local Conservative Party en masse in order to influence candidate selection. I haven’t been able to find this story again by googling, but as I recall it was a church group which also had a Christian academy school.

Nevertheless, there isn’t a lot of evidence for Christian fundamentalism influencing politics in the UK. Accelerated Christian Education teaches its pupils that it is their responsibility to influence politics with “godly values” (ie Republican Party values), but they are too few in number to have an impact. The British evangelical movement as a whole does not place an emphasis on political action, and its political views are splintered.

According to the Richard Dawkins-commissioned Ipsos-MORI poll, only 12% of Christians (defined as those who called themselves “Christian” on the 2011 UK census) think their religion should have a special influence on public policy. That projects to a little over 6% of the general population. And that’s not the Christian Right; that’s every Christian who thinks there should be an influence (including, presumably, some who just think it’s right that there are Bishops in the House of Lords).

Still, if they’re taking tips from the US, we shouldn’t be too complacent. The Christian Right wasn’t a problem over there forty years ago. And in any case, the point of this blog is that as long as any child is receiving this kind of fundamentalist education, that’s too many.

See also:

About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on August 1, 2012, in Accelerated Christian Education, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. It’s funny, I hadn’t considered that the Christian Right in America might be a recent phenomenon in politics – I’ve just been assuming they’ve always been as influential as they are now. I’d be curious to find out what has caused their increasing influence – it could be useful to know when tracking the level of Christian fundamentalist influence in the UK.

    I suspect that the tone of the documentary was slightly fear-mongering because that somehow makes it good telly, but I think you’re right Jonny that we mustn’t be complacent. We are different to the US culturally and politically, but that doesn’t make us immune.

  2. Wow ! Christians are so afraid of sexuality and the beliefs of Islam that they are self-destructing. Obviously, as an atheist/agnostic, I have to agree with the deceased Christopher Hitchens that religion is poison. According to Christians and Muslims anyone who accepts evolution as fact will rot in hell. The whole concept of heaven and hell is something created by the Catholic Church to keep its sheep in line so they can continue to collect their tithes and spread their dangerous dogma thus sending civilization back to the Dark Ages.Pedophelia is rampant and accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. Any priests or bishops guilty of it are either blaming the children or sent to a different city to continue preaching. Anyone who bothers to think critically and who studies some Science/evolution and philosophy will eventually come to realize that all religions are dangerous and will destroy mankind if not kept in check. Believe whatever myths and fairy tales that make you feel comfortable you want,but keep them to yourself and let civilization progress with the help of good,reliable Scientific discoveries. Anti-education, anti-Science, are our worst enemies. Secularism is the only protection we have against the bigotry, racism, and hatred, that religion promotes. If only Christians were aware of their history – The Crusades, The Inquisitions, Witch Burnings, and the fact that virgin births, resurrections, and all the major ideologies of the Bible were taken from the Egyptians and pagan religions long before Christianity came along. Sorry about the long, angry rants but somebody has to stand up for rationality and logic in this religiously delusional world of ours.

    • I do appreciate the intensity of your feeling about religion comes from the sheer stupidity that so often drives religious institutions, but I would appreciate it if you would take into consideration that the material in this documentary is only about one particular group of Christians. There are at least some of us who think that rationality is an important feature of faith.

      • Well said. As an atheist myself, it saddens me when others generalise religious people in this way, not realising how hate-filled their apparent ‘anti-hate’ rants sound. We’re not all like that, you know =)

  3. I was watching the documentary on another blog before I came across it here. The documentary did seem to be adding extra sinister tones that might make for good tv but I think are quite unnecessary. The content itself is scary enough without even trying to make it so. My sister didn’t even believe me at first when I told her that some people believe the world is less than 10,000 years old, let alone that they taught it in schools.
    As someone not living in the UK I can’t really say how prominent fundamentalist are in politics there or how influential the Christian groups are, but you’re right that we shouldn’t get complacent, and if groups over here in Europe are getting tips from the US then we should be worried.

  4. The whole show is currently available on YouTube. Been there since February, so there’s a chance C4 aren’t bothering to get it taken down. I’m making a copy, just in case though.

  5. Christian voice were the ones protesting the witchfest in Croydon. If I recall correctly they sent the group of blacked up morris dancers (a remnant of our pagan past apparently) to dance around the group and apparent the christians ran and ran….

  6. What an extremely frustrating documentary. Is the only way to make reasonable decisions by really screaming opinions at passerby? If a Christian has a problem with the idea of islamic influence in politics do they not stop to consider that atheists may not appreciate Christian influence in politics? Clearly, religion =/= politics. The two mixing is a recipe for disaster.
    Human animal hybrids is laughable. Rape victims and women with pregnancy issues being denied freedom of choice in such important matters however, is not funny at all.
    I probably had more to rant about but this will be enough.

  7. Thanks Sarah 🙂 (couldn’t reply to your reply for some reason…)

  8. My answer is, nope. The people pulling the children’s strings are too spineless to step up on the podium and openly declare their desires to enforce a christian law upon society. You show up at any of their meetings sporting a devilish charicature mask, they’d freak out and smash their way out through the brick walls to get away as fast as possible!!

  9. You shouldnt be so worried about the Christian’s. But the Islamists now thats a real problem because they want the control over the country.

  10. I’ve been going through your back-catalogue, Jonny. Some good stuff you’ve written. This documentary gave me chills.

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