Philippa Stroud Responds to Observer Article

Conservative Parliamentary candidate Philippa Stroud has responded to the Observer article which claimed she believed in exorcising demons from homosexuals. A statement from her has been read out on the radio; Conservative blogger Iain Dale has posted the text:

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.

Dale (a gay libertarian) adds some supportive words, as does Tim Montgomerie of the Conservative Christian Fellowship and ConservativeHome:

I know Philippa incredibly well. I recruited her to run the Centre for Social Justice. I regard her as one of my closest and dearest friends. She has dedicated her life to helping the homeless, people with drug addictions and other very vulnerable people.

The Observer piece, though, did not quite claim that she considered homosexuality to be an illness – rather, that homosexuality is prompted by a supernatural causality:

In 1989, she founded a church and night shelter in Bedford, the King’s Arms Project, that helped drug addicts and alcoholics. It also counselled gay, lesbian and transsexual people.

Abi, a teenage girl with transsexual issues, was sent to the church by her parents, who were evangelical Christians. “Convinced I was demonically possessed, my parents made the decision to move to Bedford, because of this woman [Stroud]… had the power to set me free,” Abi told the Observer.

“She wanted me to know all my thinking was wrong, I was wrong and the so-called demons inside me were wrong. The session ended with her and others praying over me, calling out the demons. She really believed things like homosexuality, transsexualism and addiction could be fixed just by prayer, all in the name of Jesus.”


Stroud wrote a book, God’s Heart for the Poor, in which she explains how to deal with people showing signs of “demonic activity”.

As I blogged yesterday, the church was a member of New Frontiers International (now Newfrontiers), a Charismatic Christian network of churches. Her husband David Stroud is an elder at ChristChurch, in London, under the authority of the network’s “apostle”, Terry Virgo. The network emerged from the British house church movement of the 1970s and 1980s, although there are some links with American neo-Pentecostals such as Paul Cain.

Of course, it is not much of a surprise that a theologically conservative Christian would have a negative view of homosexuality – and in the context of neo-Pentecostal spiritual warfare, that it would be associated with the demonic. It is not clear just how far Stroud takes demonic causality, but in this strand of Christianity promptings from demons can be ascribed to all manner of day-to-day activities which are judged to fall short of Biblical standards – and it would be odd if homosexuality were not included in any such list. Indeed, Graham Dow, the former Bishop of Carlisle (and one-time university chaplain to Tony Blair) believes in such an association; in 2003 Cumbia Online reported:

Bishop Dow has hit the headlines on several occasions this year after joining the row over homosexuality within the Church of England and after it was revealed he believes evil spirits can be introduced into the world through miscarriages, abortions, oral and anal sex.

In 1990 Bishop Dow, a close friend on [sic] the Prime Minister Tony Blair, wrote a booklet, Explaining Deliverance, in which his views on evil spirits were revealed. He said the spirits could also cause untreatable diseases.

He also wrote that people who repeatedly wear black or always purchase a black car may be possessed by evil spirits. He says clear signs of evil spirits at work are “sexual lust and deviant sexual practice”

Once a demon finds an “entry point” (perhaps an initial exposure to some activity), the victim will be spiritually oppressed and in need of “deliverance”.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Bartley at Ekklesia has drawn attention to Newfrontiers’ views on gender:

The New Frontiers Church that she attends, and of which her husband is one of the main leaders, teaches that a husband has ‘authority’ over his wife, and that a wife should submit to a husband’s will in all things. The husband is seen as the ‘servant leader’. I know this from close personal experience of the church, and that it runs incredibly deep in the church. Indeed, it is fundamental to their religious approach. See this excerpt from the church’s 17 values which suggests that there must be “joyful female submission” in a marriage…

…The question must be asked of Philippa Stroud whether, in the event she was elected to Parliament, she would on any occasion ‘submit’ to her husband’s will and vote in a way that he thought was right, even if it contradicted her own position, the promises she had made to voters, or the manifesto on which she was elected?

A Methodist minister named Dave Warnock has a blog which disccusses Newfrontiers and gender further; in December he noted how the church was described on Wikipedia:

Women are also allowed to preach, as long as it does not undermine their husband. This was highlighted when the wife of David Stroud (Phillipa Stroud, Director of the Centre for Social Justice), who oversees the UK stream of Newfrontiers churches, preached at “Together At… North” in 2006 in the main meeting.

Warnock’s acid commentary on this:

Wow! Amazing! A woman was allowed to preach and she is so so valued that she is described at “the wife of David Stroud”. Oh and it was 3 years ago and not at the main conference.

An essay by Kristin Aune in Congregational Studies in the UK: Christianity in a Post-Christian Context (edited by Mathew Guest, Karin Tusting, and Linda Woodhead, 2004) suggests that Newfrontiers’ views on gender are a backlash against evangelical feminism.

Just in case anyone cares what I think, I can’t see why Stroud’s religious background should be much of an issue – and I’m someone who tries to keep tabs on the Christian Right and who will not be voting Conservative. Her association with neo-Pentecostalism has always been in the public domain, and it seems that performing deliverance rituals is something in her past rather than a current activity anyway. As for the church’s views on gender, patriarchalism is hardly an unusual religious perspective, and one can speculate about hidden spousal influence on any public person. There’s insufficient reason to suppose from the above that she would not act professionally if she became an MP.

Perhaps the most high-profile politican in the west to have involved himself with exorcisms is Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana.

Links Between Christians and the Conservative Party Explored

Today’s Observer has an article on Christian support for the Conservative Party ahead of the UK election. The article is preposterously headlined “Secret Christian donors bankroll Tories”; this is absurd because the donors discussed are hardly “secret”, either as regards the money they have donated or their religious faith:

An analysis of the Tories’ accounts reveals that a string of powerful Christian businessmen are helping bankroll the party, with many making significant donations in the days after the election campaign started.

Former investment banker Ken Costa, who gave £50,000 last month, is the chairman of Alpha International, an organisation that promotes the hugely popular Alpha course that has introduced millions of people to Christianity.

Michael Farmer, who founded a metals brokerage, gave £250,000 last month and has donated similar sums several times in the past. A self-made multi-millionaire, Farmer says he is happy to carry the “God squad” label. In a recent interview, he explained that he was backing the Tories because Labour “has governed incredibly badly”…

That’s “a string” of two, and their donations are a matter of public record. The Financial News reported a few days ago that

According to the Electoral Commission, which yesterday published statistics for political donations for the week commencing April 13, more than £2.2m was donated to the Conservative Party.

…Donations included £250,000 provided by Michael Farmer, chief executive of commodities hedge fund Red Kite… The Tories also received donations from a few well known bankers, including Ken Costa, chairman of Lazard International, who donated £50,000…

Costa’s website is here; he is the author of God at Work and is a well-known mainline evangelical. Farmer was profiled in the Telegraph last month; the paper described him as “seemingly enigmatic” and as “high on the mystery list” of Tory donors, but that’s just because he’s not generally well-known. The “secret donor” was more than happy to explain himself:

Farmer says he’s not fussed about being labelled ‘God Squad’ or an over-powerful trader: he’s never felt it necessary to speak out publicly before. But the Ashcroft row has finally provoked him. “I was watching the TV on Ashcroft and listening to all the accusations about City fat cats funding the political parties trying to further themselves,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “You can call me a City fat cat if you want but I’m not giving away my hard-earned money for fun. I’m giving it away because I want to fund something I genuine believe: that Cameron and the Tories will be a far better Government for the country than Labour. I’ve always tried to keep a low profile but this is important.”

The revelation of Farmer’s role as a “secret donor” can also be “revealed” from “an analysis” of a 2007 Times article:

Michael Farmer: £500,000

Founder of an Anglo-US metal trading hedge fund, he is a multimillionaire Christian who increased his donation under David Cameron’s leadership, reportedly inspired by his support for the family.

Meanwhile, a 2008 report tells us that:

In June 2007, Michael Farmer, co- founder of hedge fund Red Kite Metals, hosted a lunch for fellow members of the London Metal Exchange. The topic wasn’t the latest movements in the metals markets. Instead, he invited a theologian to speak on Christianity and gave a testimonial himself.

Farmer, 63, a “born-again” Christian, has been mixing business and religion for years. It’s done nothing to diminish his success. A metals trader since the age of 19, Farmer helped turn London-based MG Plc into the world’s biggest copper trader during the 10 years he ran it. In 2000, Enron Corp. bought the company for half a billion dollars.

…Farmer has lately become a public figure in London. In 2006, he gave 640,000 pounds ($1.29 million) to Britain’s Conservative Party, according to the U.K. Electoral Commission. He told the Daily Telegraph that he admired Tory leader David Cameron‘s commitment to family values. In 2007, he gave the Conservatives 410,000 pounds more.

The new Observer article tells us that Farmer

has also donated £2,000 to Philippa Stroud’s campaign to become Tory MP for Sutton & Cheam. Like her political ally, Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, Stroud is one of growing band of Tories happy to wear their faith on their sleeves.

…As head of the influential Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a Christian-orientated thinktank set up by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, Stroud has had a profound effect on the party’s approach to social issues.

A second article in the Observer has some background on Stroud, whose husband David Stroud is a minister at a neo-Pentecostal Newfrontiers (written as “New Frontiers” by the paper; this was an older branding) church (formerly in Bedford, but now in London). Stroud appears to subscribe to “spiritual warfare” beliefs:

Stroud wrote a book, God’s Heart for the Poor, in which she explains how to deal with people showing signs of “demonic activity”. Stroud, who declined to talk to the Observer, writes: “I’d say the bottom line is to remember your spiritual authority as a child of God. He is so much more powerful than anything else!”

The paper features quotes from ex-members of the church which suggest that she applied this belief to homosexuality. The article on Stroud also says that Newfrontiers is “allied to the US evangelical movement”, which is so vague as to be meaningless – evangelicals and neo-Pentecostals see themselves as belonging to a broad transnational movement, so of course there are US links, but the Newfrontiers grouping was founded by a British Christian, Terry Virgo, and emerged from trends within British Christianity (particularly house churches). However, the specific US links are interesting: the grouping apparently received an endorsement from Paul Cain, one of the controversial and authoritarian “Kansas City Prophets”. Mark Driscoll (whom I blogged here) has also spoken at Newfrontiers events. Virgo regards the grouping as “apostolic”, although there are no obvious links with the US “New Apostolic” movement.

The main Observer article rounds off with brief overviews of the Christian Conservative Fellowship and Christian Concern for Our Nation – although we learn nothing about how the CCF is “bankrolled”, despite the headline. As for CCFON:

Lowering the abortion limit is one of the key aims of [Nadine] Dorries who, as the New Statesman discovered, has received support and briefings from Christian Concern For Our Nation. The little known but well organised group claims it “exists to serve the Church by providing information to enable Christians to stand up publicly against a tide of unchristian legal and political changes in the United Kingdom”. Accounts reveal it received more than £265,000 in gifts and donations last year.

Its sister organisation, the Christian Legal Centre… runs a number of initiatives with the Alliance Defence Fund, a hugely powerful US Christian group… One of the ADF’s biggest donors is Erik Prinze, founder of the highly controversial US private security firm, Blackwater, now the subject of lawsuits over the actions of its employees in Iraq.

Earlier this year, CLC and ADF supporters met at Exeter College, Oxford, to discuss how British Christians could answer the “call of today’s worshipful warrior”.

Dorries’ links to CCFON, and CCFON’s links to the ADF, were first noted in a 2008 Channel 4 documentary, which I blogged here. I also blogged on recent the meeting at Exeter College here. It is fair to say that the CCFON represents a British “Christian Right”. The New Statesman article, by Sunny Hundal, looked at the influence of the CCF and CCFON on Conservative politics:

You could be forgiven for thinking that the David Cameron project has been striking in its unwillingness to say much about faith. None of the inner circle of Cameron, George Osborne, Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton is regarded as particularly religious, and avoiding the subject is part of the Tory detoxification project. Yet there are signs that a change is afoot.

“Historically, there have been splits in the Conservative Party over religion. But the vast majority of the new MPs will be social Conservatives who have similar opinions to myself,” Nadine Dorries tells the New Statesman. “I can think of half a dozen Conservatives that don’t agree with me, but they’re leaving at the next election – people like Andrew MacKay and David Curry. The new MPs that are coming in are all social Conservatives – people like Fiona Bruce, Philippa Stroud, Louise Bagshawe.”

…It may be hard to believe that Britain will turn into Jesus-land, but social attitudes are always in flux. And developing a sense of victimhood is an essential part of the religious right’s strategy to fire up its base. After all, it has been used to great effect in the US.


When Dorries unveiled her “20 Reasons for 20 Weeks” campaign in 2008 to restrict abortion rights, Williams cropped up as an ally through another organisation she runs: Christian Concern for Our Nation (CCFON). The campaign website stated that it was not politically motivated or religious; however, I can reveal that it was registered and created by CCFON members, a fact not mentioned on the site. When asked about the organisation’s involvement with her campaign, Dorries says it “helped out with the research”. She adds that it had “an army of interns” who proved “very useful”. And how was the slick-looking website funded? She pauses before replying: “One of their interns did the website for free.”

Futher details appear in a follow-up piece by Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy.

In February, the Financial Times ran a long article on the same subject, providing background on the CCF and the CSJ (link added):

A Conservative MP was stage-whispering in the leathery, dark Pugin Room of the House of Commons late last year. With a view of the Thames, teacup in hand, he hissed at me: “They’ve campaigned to change the processes so that they can bus in their voters, stuffing the selection meetings with their people. They don’t outnumber us, but they can out-organise us. They’re taking over the party.”

“They” are evangelical Christians, and the MP was prompted to speak by a meeting a week earlier. The party had held an “open primary” (in which members of the public can vote) to choose a candidate to stand for a safe Tory seat – Congleton, Cheshire – in this year’s general election. The two leading names on the ballot were Matthew Hancock and Fiona Bruce. Both are well-known within Tory circles. Hancock is an economic adviser to the party, Bruce a solicitor who fought valiantly, if unsuccessfully, for a seat in the north-west in the 2005 general election. The main difference is religion: Hancock is secular, Bruce an evangelical Christian.

Bruce won comfortably, taking a majority of the 220 votes cast in the first round. But a rumour soon spread that most of her votes had come from members of the New Life church, a local evangelical congregation. Buses were alleged to have ferried 150 Christians from the church.

…Soon after Cameron’s election, Duncan Smith was invited to write a series of reports on poverty as part of the party’s policy review. And while some at the CSJ were concerned about losing their independence, it was worth what they won: relevance. Two years after being exiled by Michael Howard, a small group of Christian Tories was defining the party’s social policy. Today, the CSJ says it has crafted a full 70 Conservative policies…

In 2000, there was a concern over alleged entryism by a neo-Pentecostal church in the Conservative Party in Brentwood and Ongar, prompting Martin Bell to stand as an independent against Eric Pickles. Pickles was able to ride out the controversy, and the church concerned has since been diminished by a sex scandal.