By Donal Musgrave CANDIDATES at the coming General Election
are to be faced with an unprecedented number of questions from Christian electors as to where they stand on moral rather than essentially political issues. Evidence of the growing desire to have these matters clarified came this week with the announcement that at least 90 separate " probe " meetings are to be arranged by local church councils.
Behind this move to face candidates, collectively, with matters of Christian concern is the British Council of Churches. Catholics are represented on many local church councils throughout the country, hut only as observers.
The meetings, at which candidates arc to be asked to answer questions from audiences of mixed religious faiths, have met with only qualified enthusiasm among potential members and their parties. Already six Conservatives have turned down such invitations.
Nothing official Enquiries made at the Labour and Conservative Party headquarters show that neither party takes an official standpoint on whether candidates should attend church meetings of this sort or not A Liberal spokesman, on the other hand, said: We think polltics should be everybody's concern. You just cannot compartmentalise things and any group of people has every right to invite candidates to give their views on matters which are important to the electorate. There is no reason why the Council of Churches should not do this."
Conservative and Labour spokesmen said it would be left entirely up to individual candidates.
A spokesman for the British Council of Churches said that the meetings were intended merely to clarify points of importance to Christians but were in no way intended to bring political pressure to hear on candidates.
Strong feelings Questions asked would be on such. matters as road deaths, the increasing crime rate, old age pensions, alcoholism, education, the nuclear deterrent, world poverty, local employment and apartheid.
These were things about which any Christian must have strong feelings.
`'We want to find out what the politicians are going to do about issues like these," said Fr. William Gordon, parish priest of Twickenham and an observer on the Twickenham Council of Churches. "We do not want to find out just what they are going to say.
"Practical, concrete solutions are what we are after, not political oratory. We will make it clear that it is a Church and not a political meeting," he added. A Twickenham meeting will be held on October I and parishioners of all denominations have been asked to compile lists of questions by their clergy.
Mr. Hugh Delargy, Labour MP for Thurrock, said he would not share a platform with candidates from other parties to answer questions of any importance. But he would be prepared to face any group of people on his own "The parliamentary game is not a peepshow", he said. "People should not be trying to find out who is the most photogenic or gives the quickest answer. This is alt they will find out if they hold meetings like this. They will become minor campaigns arid this is not the best way to get the best answers."