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As evangelical
groups grow in Britain, so does opposition to gay rights

As evangelical
groups grow in Britain, so does opposition to gay rights

It's Sunday in England, and across the country many traditional stone churches are struggling to fill their pews. But not C3, the Cambridge Community Church, one of the country's many evangelical groups. Its mostly white, middle-class congregants crowd a rented school auditorium with their arms outstretched to the heavens and their hands fervently clapping to evangelical sermons.

''I don't need an old church with stained glass windows where a few people show up out of obligation, not inspiration,'' said Ruth Chandler, a former member of the Church of England.

In England's last census, 72% of people identified themselves as Christian. Many are Anglicans affiliated with the Church of England, which was created by royal proclamation during the 16th century after King Henry VIII, who married six times, broke ties with the Roman Catholic Church in a dispute over divorce.

But the Church of England has said that fewer than 10% of its members are regular churchgoers. By contrast, evangelicals make up about 40% of all the nation's regular churchgoers, according to Peter Brierely, head of Christian Research, a London-based think tank.

Among the thriving conservative Christian churches in London are rich, mostly white Anglican congregations in the evangelical wing of the denomination, including Holy Trinity in Knightsbridge. Years ago, the parish developed an outreach course for newcomers called Alpha, which explains the basics of Christianity. The course has been so successful that it is now used for evangelism worldwide.

The strong evangelical presence became apparent during the recent debate over a new law in Britain on gay rights. Without a debate, the House of Commons passed the Equality Act Sexual Orientation Regulations 2007 (SORs), which require full equality for gay men and lesbians and outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Christians fiercely opposed the law, saying it would require their adoption agencies to accept applications from gay couples, make it illegal for Christian hoteliers to turn away gays, and force religious schools to hire gays.

The Reverend Joel Edwards, head of the Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella group that claims 1 million members in Britain, said in an interview that the issue is pushing ''evangelicalism into a new mode of active citizenship, which I welcome.''

As in the United States, British religious groups are barred from allying themselves with, or funding, a political party or a specific candidate in an election. But organizations such as the Evangelical Alliance issue position papers to their followers on issues such as gay rights. Theologically conservative Christians believe gay relationships violate Scripture.

''The erosion of Christian values increasingly reflected in our legislation is an indication that Britain has lost its Christian soul,'' wrote Edwards, a British immigrant from Jamaica. ''In this post-Christendom Britain, we cannot afford to neglect prayerful and spirit-led strategies for long-term change, for this is much work to be done.'' (Thomas Wagner, AP)

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