The political editor of the News Letter Sam McBride has been to see one of Northern Ireland’s most dangerous men: Wallace Thompson; Chairman of the Council of Reference of the Caleb Foundation (dangerous according to the British Council for Science Education which has christened Caleb the Caleban). Sam seems to have found him somewhat less scary than he is suggested to be.
The Caleb Foundation (Caleb was a character in the Old Testament) is a conservative evangelical lobbying group set up to provide a sort of umbrella organisation to articulate the positions held by a number of the smaller Protestant evangelical churches in Northern Ireland and as a counterpoint to lobbying from the four main denominations.
Caleb and Wallace Thompson have attracted the ire of a different lobbying group the British Council for Science Education over their views on creationism. This has been enough to earn Wallace Thompson the title of Christian Fascist; that his organisation has “tentacles all over the place”; is aiming to make Northern Ireland a “fundamentalist Protestant theocracy” and is “a classic hardline anti-intellectual Northern Irish sectarian organisation, deeply anti-Catholic and pompously absurd in its claims about being Christian.”
In the face of all this Thompson seems a bit bemused and told McBride:
“No evangelical should ever adopt a Pharisaical attitude to life of saying ‘Look at how great I am and how dreadful others are’ — that is the road to pride and arrogance,” but concedes: “Perhaps our perception as evangelical Christians, evangelical Protestants, has been that type of image which we have to look at as well … mistakes have been made by Caleb, mistakes will be made by me personally and down through the years by church and state in Northern Ireland.”
He insists that the group is not “anti-culture, anti-the arts, anti-science”, and points out that many of its positions on issues such as creationism or Sunday trading are historical, not new.
Thompson says that the group’s opposition to a further relaxation of Sunday trading laws — as proposed by the social development minister Alex Attwood — is founded not just in its belief of the workless Sabbath, but also practical considerations, such as those of small businesses and families.
He then adds: “The other area is the rights of Christian shopworkers and the underlying pressure to work on a Sunday.
“It would also further erode what little family time there is if mum or dad has to go out to work in a shop.”
Thompson has of course been the subject of previous controversy when in one of his other roles as Secretary of the Evangelical Protestant Society he stated the position that the Pope is Antichrist: though such issues are not part of Caleb’s remit.
Exactly how much influence Caleb actually has is difficult to establish: thus far there is no creationism in the Ulster Museum nor at the Giant’s Causeway. However, its positions are probably not far removed from those typically held amongst the smaller evangelical denominations and also by many of the more conservative members of the Presbyterian Church as well as some Church of Ireland and Methodist adherents.