As the child of a devout protestant family, I find Theresa May’s beliefs hard to swallow

In a rare interview with the Sunday Times, our Prime Minister Theresa May discussed her personal faith and the impact her beliefs have on the decisions she makes as a politician. May described herself as a “practicing member of the Church of England” and said that her faith in God “lies behind what I do”.

First published by The Independent, 28th November 2016

In a rare interview with the Sunday Times, our Prime Minister Theresa May discussed her personal faith and the impact her beliefs have on the decisions she makes as a politician. May described herself as a “practicing member of the Church of England” and said that her faith in God “lies behind what I do”.

To me, Theresa May’s interview not only betrays her eye-watering arrogance, but also her wilful misinterpretation of the core values of Christianity. Sure, the Old Testament might be full of murder and barbarism and “don’t cut your hair at the sides of your head” (Leviticus 19:27), but the teachings of Jesus are the absolute focal point of Christian belief.

Jesus loved the poor, the dispossessed, and those who found themselves on the fringes of society. He dined with the hated tax collector and refused to recognise the divide between Jews and the Samaritans. For Christians, he is the ultimate symbol of humility, compassion and love.

Unfortunately, Theresa May doesn’t seem to have read her New Testament very closely. She has almost always voted for the use of UK forces in combat operations overseas. She was in favour of sending UK troops into Iraq in 2003, and the coalition’s military intervention and the ensuing civil war has cost more than 187,000 documented civilian lives. Instead of being the military leader that many Jews had expected, Jesus is consistently described as a man of peace. I doubt he’d be impressed by the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq.

In December 2014, Theresa May voted against scrapping the hated Bedroom Tax, a failed Tory policy that has penalised some of Britain’s most vulnerable families. Research carried out by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) found that 75 per cent of those affected by the Bedroom Tax were forced to cut back on the most basic necessity – food. The Bedroom Tax has been used to penalise women living in fear of violent ex-partners and those struggling after terrible bereavements. Perhaps Theresa May believes that because “the poor are blessed and in line to inherit the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), they can be trampled and degraded by Tory policy here on earth.

April 2016 saw May vote against allowing 3,000 unaccompanied children to find a safe haven in the UK. Jesus said something about how little children should come unto him because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14), but maybe Theresa May didn’t get the memo?

May voted to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act in May of this year, because basic human rights are just a little too inconvenient when it comes to deporting people. She’s never been a big fan of the HRA, even making a misleading statement at the Conservative Party Conference in 2011, alleging that a man couldn’t be deported because of his pet cat. This turned out not to be true, but it managed to get the right wing press frothing at the mouth anyway. Christians are taught to “love their neighbours” (Mark 12:31), but perhaps Theresa May believes that increasing deportations is a form of “love”.

I’m not personally a believer, but I was brought up in a Christian household. I attended a United Reformed Church until I was 18, and the sermons tended to focus on “doing unto others as you would be done unto” and the importance of helping those in need, even when it’s personally inconvenient to do so.

If Jesus were here, in Theresa May’s Britain, he’d be helping the 3,500 people sleeping rough this winter. This is double the number counted in 2010, caused in no small part by Tory policy. He’d be trying to make a difference to the lives of Britain’s most vulnerable people – the vulnerable women detained in Yarl’s Wood without charge (many have suffered rape and torture in their home countries), and the one in four children who live in poverty, cold and hungry in one of the most wealthy nations on earth. He’d probably have had his benefits sanctioned more than once.

May has inherited an austere and heartless government, but the Autumn Statement under her leadership shows little commitment to change. If Theresa May is a Christian, I can only assume that her interpretation of scripture is very, very loose.

Anti-drones protesters’ lenient sentence is ‘invitation’ to activists

The lenient sentence handed to six anti-drones protesters convicted of criminal damage to RAF Waddington this week is “an invitation” for others to do the same, according to one of the activists.

First published  by The Guardian, 11th October 2013

The lenient sentence handed to six anti-drones protesters convicted of criminal damage to RAF Waddington this week is “an invitation” for others to do the same, according to one of the activists.

On 3 June this year Susan Clarkson, Christopher Cole, Henrietta Cullinan, Keith Hebden, Martin Newell and Penelope Walker cut a hole in the perimeter fence of the Lincolnshire airbase and walked around inside for 45-60 minutes, handing out leaflets and planting a peace garden consisting of a fig tree and a vine. On Monday Lincoln magistrates ordered the activists to pay £10 to the RAF in compensation, £75 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge. Judge John Stobart said he was handing down his sentence “with a very heavy heart” and told the protesters they were “dutiful people”.

Keith Hebden, an Anglican pastor at St Mark’s in Mansfield, sees the sentence as encouragement from Stobart for other activists and pressure-groups to become involved in similar anti-drone activity. “The £10 fine to the RAF is invitation from the judge for like-minded people to do the same”, he said in an interview with the Guardian this week. The six activists believe RAF Waddington is a “conflict zone on our shores”, said Hebden. He claims that during the trial, the judge interrupted the prosecution to confirm that the base met the criteria for a conflict zone.

The vicar says he is inspired by Jesus’s example of non-violent resistance. “As a Christian I cannot prefer the life of one human being over another on the basis of where they were born. If drones were killing civilians in the UK we’d rise up against that, I don’t see national borders as a barrier to outrage for fellow human beings,” he said. RAF Waddington is the first unmanned drones base in the UK and it is from this base that Reaper aircrafts stationed in Afghanistan are operated. UK Reapers carry GBU-12 bombs and Hellfire missiles, both laser-guided.

Hebden describes the reaction of his congregation to the news of his direct action as mixed, with some pleased members and others who were shocked by the events. During Monday’s court hearing, Hebden’s congregation held a prayer vigil attended by 75 churchgoers. One of the leaders of the vigil has a son in the RAF, currently serving in Afghanistan. Hebden sees the church’s involvement as evidence of a widespread readiness for peace and reconciliation. He says the group are currently taking legal advice on whether to follow the judge’s invitation to appeal the decision but they “certainly are encouraged to keep the pressure on the government to start telling the truth about drones”.

Hebden is committed to activism and has written a book on peaceful means of direct action, that is “written primarily for people of faith, but in a way that includes those who aren’t”. The six activists are made up of members of the Stop the War Coalition, CND, the Drone Campaign Network and War on Want, and all have previously campaigned against drone activity in different locations. They include two pensioners, a partially blind researcher and a Catholic priest from the Passion order. Hebden is hopeful that change will come, stating that at Monday’s hearing “the drones were on trial, and found guilty”.