Anglican clergy banned from racist parties

The Church of England has given its final approval to draft legislation banning clergy and church staff from membership in racist organisations.

The legislation states that it is “unbecoming or inappropriate conduct” to belong to or solicit support for “a political party or other organisation whose constitution, policies, objectives, activities or public statements [are] incompatible with the teaching of the Church of England in relation to race equality”.

The legislation received the overwhelming support of all three Houses in the General Synod in York today.

The policy was drawn up in response to a motion put forward at the February 2009 General Synod by Vasantha Gnanadoss asking that clergy be disciplined if they supported racist parties.

Mrs Gnanadoss had argued at the time that introducing disciplinary action “would make it much more difficult for the British National Party and other organisations to exploit the claim that there are Anglican clergy or Church representatives that support them”.

The debate came not long after a list of 12,000 BNP members - among them a retired Anglican priest – was leaked on the internet.

The legislation approved in Synod today included a special amendment removing the requirement of a two-thirds majority in the House of Bishops in order to revoke prohibition on joining a party that had changed its stance on race.

Explaining the amendment, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev Christopher Hill said: “Though the Measure as amended will rightly curtail some political opinions by reason of fundamental Christian teaching on racial equality, and concern for the common good, it is also right surely to have a lower episcopal threshold to restore legitimate political options if an organisation has itself genuinely changed its position.”

The Measure is a largely symbolic gesture as the Church of England said it was not aware of any of its current clergy supporting racist parties.

The General Synod is meeting at York University until Tuesday. A key debate is set to take place on women bishops on Monday.