Leading churchmen urge voters to back Christian candidates at the polls

THE head of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland is one of the leading figures behind a manifesto aimed at encouraging four million churchgoers in the UK to vote for parliamentary candidates who are Christians.

The Westminster 2010 declaration, signed by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and 28 other leading Christian figures, is meant as an Easter Day rallying call for Christian voters.

The document addresses what many religious leaders consider to be the increasing secularisation and "anti-Christian" stance of government and politicians.

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In particular the manifesto opposes abortion and euthanasia and wants changes to the equalities bill which the Pope recently condemned for not allowing Christians to exercise their conscience on issues such as homosexuality.

One Scottish Tory Westminster candidate, Alex Johnstone, a Kirk elder and North East MSP, gave the manifesto a cautious welcome.

"I would agree with much of what it has to say and I think it is right for the churches to put out a message like this," said the candidate for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine.

"But I would not want to sign up to such a document because I would not want to bind myself on complex issues which require some subjective judgment."

However, other politicians felt that the churches should stay out of politics altogether.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie, one of Scotland's most prominent atheists, said: "Politicians shouldn't interfere with people's private faith, and nor should bishops try to distort people's political decisions.

"Christianity was supposedly founded on peace and social justice, yet the priorities here are the usual culture war obsessions of the wingnut American religious right: anti-gay, anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia."

There were also question marks from the Church of Scotland which was not approached about the document and has set its priorities for voters as tackling child poverty and scrapping Trident.

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Rev Ian Galloway, the convener of the Kirk's Church and Society group, said: "I think it is wrong to think of an homogenous Christian vote.

"There are many different political opinions within churches. For example in the Church and Society group we have members of all the main political parties."