When you get to the closing stages of election campaigns, political parties who are losing tend to do desperate things. We saw an example of it earlier today with Shaun Woodward. Newspapers happily lap up any kind of lurid allegation - especially when it concerns a Conservative candidate in a LibDem target seat. This morning, The Observer printed a story on its front page alleging that Conservative candidate Philippa Stroud had been involved in prayer sessions to "cure" people of homosexuality and believed homosexuality to be an illness. What a coincidence that this should appear four days before polling day. Amazing, eh?
You can imagine my joy at having to comment on this when I was doing the paper review last night on the Nolan Show.
Philippa is one of the kindest and compassionate people I have ever met. Her work with the Centre for Social Justice is brilliant and she has achieved more in that job than most people achieve in their whole lives. At the end of the programme Stephen Nolan read out a statement from her in which she absolutely denied believing that homosexuality was an illness.
“I make no apology for being a committed Christian. However, it is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that The Observer has suggested otherwise. I have spent 20 years working with disturbed people who society have turned their back on and are not often supported by state agencies; drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill and the homeless that I and my charitable friends in the public sector have tried to help over the years. The idea that I am prejudiced against gay people is both false and insulting.”
Let me tell you a secret. Christians pray. Wow. Shock horror. They pray for all sorts of groups of people. Policemen. Teachers. They probably even pray for politicians. They pray for disabled people - not to cure them, but to help them cope with the difficulties life presents them with. Perhaps they might even pray for transsexuals or homosexuals - not to be "cured" but out of pure human compassion. Surely those who have been bombarding me on Twitter this morning aren't suggesting that prayer should now be considered a politically incorrect activity, because that's very much the implication.
Philippa Stroud categorically denies the Observer's implication that she believes homosexuality is an illness or can be cured.
And I believe her.
Mud sticks. Most of the people who have been bombarding me this morning will no doubt refuse to believe Philippa's categorical denials. They will continue to snigger about demons and exorcism. So well done to The Observer. They have traduced a fundamentally decent person whose daily work proves to me that she is a more compassionate person than many of the rest of us put together.
Even by writing this I suppose that by writing this I am keeping the story going, but I cannot sit back and watch a good woman be slagged off in this way.
I am not religious. I am agnostic. But I was brought up as a Christian and many of my values (but not all) would be considered Christian. I am quite happy if Christians want to pray for me. What harm can it do? Yes, I find evangelical, charismatic Christians slightly bizarre people as a group. Some of their rituals are equally bizarre, but then again so are many of the rituals associated with mainstream Islam, Catholicism or Anglicanism. Did Philippa Stroud take part in a rather bizarre prayer session twenty one years ago? I couldn't give a monkey's arse, frankly. I probably did things 21 years ago I wouldn't do today. I no doubt believed things 21 years ago which I don't today. And if you're honest, the same goes for you too.
In Britain we get uncomfortable when people wear their religion on the sleeves. I have always found it difficult to understand why otherwise perfectly logical and intelligent people think that some all-powerful being can have such power over us, but they clearly get something out of the whole religious experience. In some ways I have always been envious of that, but my inner logic tells me that there can be no such thing as a God. And until something or someone can prove the opposite to me, I won't be changing my view.
No doubt hell awaits. Well, it probably will if Labour wins on Thursday.... :).
At school they taught me how to be
So pure in thought and word and deed
They didn't quite succeed
For everything I long to do
No matter when or where or who
Has one thing in common, too
It's a, it's a, it's a, it's a sin
It's a sin
(It's a Sin, by the Pet Shop Boys)