David Kerr is the SNP candidate for the forthcoming Glasgow NE by-election (caused by the Speaker's resignation). Until recently at the BBC, David Kerr has come under some fire for being a member of Opus Dei, the controversial Catholic group that famously includes Labour's Ruth Kelly.
The National Secular Society has led the charge:
The NSS are making a fake distinction between Opus Dei and all Christianity. The NSS' true agenda is pretty transparent.
I am not a member of Opus Dei. I am not even a Catholic. But I am an Anglican and I worry that the attacks on Opus Dei and David Kerr are the latest stage in a secular fundamentalism that is trying to push people of faith outside the public square. The Buttiglione affair - with illiberal Liberal Democrats leading the Inquisition (and, sadly, Matthew Parris) - has been the most prominent episode in this new manifestation of intolerance.
The Da Vinci Code book and films have made Opus Dei out to be some extreme organisation. Although Opus Dei is somewhat unusual the Hollywood treatment is very unfair. Tories should certainly know that the liberal media isn't the kindest to people of conservative disposition. Opus Dei does not have its own belief system. It has exactly the same beliefs as the wider Catholic Church. An attack on Opus Dei is therefore the beginnings of an attack on Catholicism generally. Opus Dei merely upholds and practices of an orthodox Christianity and in that way is similar to Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals. It is no more 'hardline' on moral issues than the Evangelical Alliance or the Conservative Christian Fellowship or the Black Majority Churches on issues of when life starts and ends and on marriage, for example.
It is of course perfectly acceptable for a voter to decide to withhold their vote from David Kerr because of his views on abortion. That's democracy. But I would counter that a new intolerance of Christianity would be very bad for politics as whole. One of the characteristics of Christianity in Britain (compared, say, with the USA) is its breadth. Christians in the UK have a healthy range of interests including a concern for the poorest people at home and abroad.
I was recently at a CCF party to celebrate Guy Hordern's 70th birthday party. Few Conservatives have done more to link the party leadership (in his home city of Birmingham and in the wider nation) with innovative poverty-fighting groups and charity sector thinkers. Philippa Stroud, our candidate in Sutton and Cheam, is (with IDS) the hero of the Centre for Social Justice. Both Guy and Philippa are churchgoers. Our country's history of social reform has had Christians at its heart (Wilberforce and Shaftesbury).
My own hunch is that the intolerance of Christianity is largely an elite class thing. Most Britons - even if they don't go to church - still have a deep affection for the Christian faith and Jesus' teachings. That's why so many send their children to faith schools and even more will do so once Michael Gove has enacted his supply side revolution.
David Kerr deserves to be judged on his merits as a candidate. I am fortunate to count him as a friend. If elected I know he'd be an excellent MP who would tirelessly work hard for all his constituents (of every faith and none). People like David would enrich Parliament. It's just a terrible shame he's in the SNP and that (in case there is any doubt) is why I'd vote Conservative and Unionist if I lived in the constituency.