Yesterday was D-Day (Decision Day) for Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists in Northern Ireland. But unlike their counterparts on 6th June 1944 on the beaches of Normandy, the Christians lost the fight to stop same-sex marriage and the pro-life lobby suffered yet another humiliating defeat.
For many Christians, yesterday’s recall of the Stormont Assembly was a religious Alamo plan to save the unborn. For many in the pro-choice lobby, recalling Stormont was a political stunt.
Midnight came and went. No power-sharing Executive at Stormont meant that laws on same-sex marriage and some of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe being introduced into Northern Ireland via Westminster became a reality.
If you thought the battle to find a Brexit deal, extend the Brexit deadline, or even halt the Brexit process entirely before the 31 October deadline, then Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists opposed such laws on same-sex marriage and abortion coming from Westminster have an even bigger mountain to climb now.
In practical political terms, their plan to find a loophole in Stormont standing orders so that 30 Assembly members can recall Stormont, form some kind of hotchpotch Executive, and get a petition of concern up and running to halt what Christians view as some of the most draconian abortion laws in Europe has crashed and burned harder than a chariot in Ben Hur!
Sunday 13 October saw a day of prayer across many churches - both Catholic and Protestant - to pray against this legislation and for the protection of the unborn. Monday 21 October saw defeat yet again for the Christian community.
It must be a bitter pill to swallow coming hot on the heels of defeats by Christians in the same-sex and abortion referenda in the Republic.
At face value, it seemed an astute move to get Westminster to introduce legislation which has always appeared as political sticking points and red lines to getting a power-sharing Executive back at Stormont.
That could allow the Christian community to point the judgemental finger at London, pretend to be a modern day Pontius Pilate, and say - ‘it was Westminster what done it!’
On paper now, only a stand alone Irish Language Act remains a stumbling block to the restoration of devolution, which has been moth-balled since January 2017. So why can’t the Westminster Government bring in such an Act in a similar way it has legislated for same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion laws?
While it has been some five years since death of the founder of the DUP, the late Rev Ian Paisley, who was also the founder of the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster in 1951, the voter influence of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists both within and outside the party should not be underestimated.
Similarly, of the three supposed red lines to devolution’s return - same-sex marriage, abortion, and an Irish Language Act - perhaps the most contentious is abortion. Two of those red lines disappeared at midnight.
The electoral challenge which the DUP faces is - which issue has the potential to lose or gain votes. In practical terms, pluralist Protestants may not have the same strong views on protecting the unborn as DUP traditionalists among the socially conservative evangelical and fundamentalists.
If the DUP was to agree to a stand alone Irish Language Act in exchange for blocking new draconian abortion laws, would liberal unionists and secular Protestants punish the DUP at the ballot box, especially in the looming Westminster General Election?
The DUP privately recognises that it has lost the battle to halt same-sex marriage coming to Northern Ireland. But for the Christian lobby, it would rather see the protection of the unborn than halt same-sex marriage. Now the Christian community has lost that abortion battle, too, so where do the Christian Churches pass their standards now?
Why is abortion such a major issue now with Christians? Practically, you cannot save an aborted baby, but you could ‘witness’ to same-sex couples that a Christian heterosexual lifestyle is a better alternative to gay marriage. In Christian thinking, at least the people in a same-sex marriage are alive; aborted babies are corpses.
However, pro-life lobbyists are well aware of this month’s earlier ruling in the Sarah Ewart case in which the Belfast High Court ruled that Northern Ireland’s abortion restrictions breach UK human rights laws.
If pro-life lobbyists ever did manage to create a situation whereby any new abortion law was halted in its tracks, how would that decision play out against the October 3 Belfast High Court ruling?
And its not just the DUP which faces an abortion dilemma. Sinn Fein may have been able to see off any electoral challenge from parties supporting dissident republican groups, or even a revitalised SDLP, but could the intervention of the vehemently pro-life Aontu party cost Sinn Fein vital seats.
Okay, pundits can point to the fact that Aontu has only a handful of elected councillors straddling both sides of the border, but many socially conservative Catholics may also opt either to vote for Aontu or the DUP if pro-life lobbyists can move the debate to the top of the political agenda ahead of, or even on a par with, Brexit.
The abortion debate could provide the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland with the chance to regain some moral ground lost because of the fallout from the clerical abuse scandals which have hounded the Church in recent decades.
A visible tactic orchestrated by the Church would be to picket Sinn Fein offices and advice centres with the warning - support pro-life or we abandon you! In electoral terms, the pro-life lobby within Catholicism has a better opportunity to inflict voter damage on Sinn Fein than the dissident republican lobby.
My late father, Rev Dr Robert Coulter MBE, was a North Antrim UUP Assembly member from 1998 to 2011. He was an avowed pro-life champion because of his strongly evangelical Biblical views. In elections, he attracted a significant number of transfers from Catholic nationalist voters because of his tough pro-life stance.
The same observation can also be said of the late Rev Ian Paisley’s vote in North Antrim, too. In elections, voters knew precisely what either my father or Rev Dr Paisley stood for in terms of the pro-life debate.
Likewise, the UUP faces a similar electoral dilemma as it seeks to find a new party leader. Presently, the UUP allows a conscience vote on abortion.
One of the accusations which has been levelled at the UUP compared to the more liberal Alliance party is that voters in the European poll in May were actually confused as to the UUP’s stance - pointedly, what does the UUP stand for?
A new more liberal UUP leader could make support for the pro-choice position party policy in a bid to go head to head with Alliance, which also operates a conscience clause for its elected representatives.
However, that could backfire on the UUP if the traditional Right-wing party members who were to the fore in the Molyneaux era vote with their feet and defect to the DUP.
With parties seeking to boast that they are all ‘broad churches’ to use the political pun, what battles lines should the Christians Churches now adopt?
The real danger for the Churches is that their physical places of worship become targets for the ‘politically correct brigade’ who actually visit such churches to ‘deliberately’ become offended.
Will we see an extension of the Communications Act so that people visiting churches can actually complain about the content of sermons spoken, rather than sermons transmitted over the internet?
At the moment, Churches are basking in the belief that their religious gatherings enjoy freedom of expression. But at what point will this freedom be diluted?
In the 1970s, the corner street evangelist was part of the Northern Ireland culture. But are such preachers being driven off the streets into the church pulpits? The Churches need to be careful that the next ‘red line’ they need to defend is to preach the Gospel from their pulpits.
Granted, some clerics will prefer to preach a ‘fluffy bunny’ liberal agenda whereby Hell, sin, sexual immorality and the Salvationist theology are all ignored or banned.
In such a situation, Christianity would be nothing more than a Pharisee-style badge as the very evangelical and Biblical pillars upon which true Salvationist Christianity is based would be eradicated. When will we see a law jailing clerics or preachers for ‘Non-PC’ sermons?
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com