Who are the 'Christian Soldiers of UKIP'?
A Christian group affiliated to UKIP has been criticised for publishing a newsletter in which gay people were referred to as "sodomites" and a gay pride march as a "display of wickedness". The piece was run by the Christian Soldiers of UKIP in a magazine sent to supporters, but just who are they?
The group claims to be "fighting through Christ for deliverance from EU tyranny". They are a fringe organisation that a UKIP spokesperson said is "authorised but not official".
A flyer produced by the Christian Soldiers last year quoted UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall as saying: "The Christian identity is under threat from every angle. UKIP are the only party that now supports and will protect the fundamental rights of Christians.
"UKIP will speak out against the attack on our Christian heritage that has developed in this land for nearly 2,000 years."
The flyer then claims that UKIP will "support traditional marriage rather than gay marriage" and "Under a UKIP government, Christians will be free to preach and practice the teaching of the Bible and live as Christians without fear of political or legal harassment and censor."
Elizabeth Biddulph said she founded Christian Soldiers after realising that there were many Christians in UKIP who "needed a voice".
"UKIP has been very good about it, but we're a separate thing, we receive no funding and there's no membership, we just produce a newsletter three times a year," she said.
The newsletter in question, which was sent out to over 1,000 supporters, included a letter by a man who had attended a gay pride march to pray. According to the Mirror, the march was described as a "parade of depravity". Biddulph told Christian Today that the words have been "twisted".
"A gentleman wrote a letter to me [explaining] the treatment he received from gay people when he and some other Christians went to witness at a gay pride event in Manchester," she said.
"He was abused, shouted at, and when they were praying people came up and blew whistles in their ears loudly...the gentleman was very upset at how aggressive they were; [the Christians] weren't abusing the gay people or anything like that, they were just trying to pray and sing. So he wrote a letter and I published it in the newsletter."
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said UKIP should discipline the newsletter's publishers. "These intolerant, inflammatory views are very similar to those expressed by the British National Party," he said. "These opinions are not isolated and they are being repeated by UKIP members all over the country."
However, Biddulph would view any attempt to curb the views of the Christian Soldiers as an attack on free speech. "I can't understand such venom. It's like they're trying to stop Christians having free speech with all the persecution Christians are suffering; losing their jobs and their livelihoods. Christian teachers are afraid to speak out, nurses are afraid to wear crosses [at work], it goes on and on," she said.
The Christian Soldiers are "ordinary, everyday Christians," she added. "A lot of us are born-again, and we happen to be members of UKIP."
Right-wing parties are no doubt gaining traction among some Christians, a trend Bidduph attributed to mainstream politicians who have "turned their backs on God".
"Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem politicians...no longer believe this is a Christian nation, they just pay lip service to that. They go totally against Christian teaching, and unless Christians stand up to be counted, we will soon become a minority in this country," she said.
UKIP, however, has distanced itself from the Christian Soldiers. "These groups are authorised but not official, they are mechanisms for members with shared interests to associate but have no official role or status," a spokesperson told Christian Today.
"They do not represent the party or its policies. This leaflet was recently brought to our attention. Authorised groups are not allowed to invent UKIP policy, and we do not consider that this leaflet is of an acceptable standard to be associated with the UKIP brand."