Britain First is corrupting the message of the cross, and we need to claim it back
It might seem obvious that extreme right-wing party Britain First is not a Christian group. Its scaremongering policies, widely considered to be racist, are hopefully not the first thing that spring to mind when you think of Christianity.
However, Britain First seems to think otherwise. The group recently held a "Christian Patrol" in Luton, during which members brandished wooden crosses and claimed to be defending "Christian values" while handing out anti-Islam newspapers to Muslims.
Although this "Christian Patrol" and others like it have only attracted marchers in their tens, a video of the Luton march has been viewed 21 million times on Facebook. Britain First is disrupting communities, harrassing Muslim neighbours and doing so in the name of a "Christian Britain". It's time we said: "not in my name."
It may seem superfluous to defend the Christian faith from such a group, but its online popularity (the Britain First Facebook page has 1,280,406 likes – more than the Labour and Conservative Party pages combined), and a quick look at historical cases of the appropriation of Christianity by far-right groups (think the Nazis and the KKK) suggest otherwise.
Britain First is a far-right and British nationalist party that was formed in 2011, as a splinter group from the BNP. It fights against immigration, multiculturalism and what it describes as the "Islamisation" of the UK. On its Wikipedia page, the group is also described as having a "Christian" ideology.
Deputy leader Jayda Fransen has declared that the UK is heading for a "civil war" between those who hold "British values" and Islamists.
In the nine-minute clip of the Luton march, Fransen argues ferociously with a Muslim man, shouting "our country, not your country. It's a Christian country."
When challenged, she continues, saying: "You think you can take over a town and say 'It's your country, you're taking over'... not for long, see this cross? It will prevail."
Britain First has "corrupted the message of the cross, which for us is a symbol of reconciliation, forgiveness and selfless love," Peter Adams, a member of Luton's St Mary's Church, told Luton Today.
He was among a group of local Christians and Muslims who stood together to hand out flowers in a show of unity following the march.
Britain First's "method, their provocative actions, their carrying of white crosses, very angry [and] abusive words were not the message that the church in Luton had towards our Muslim neighbours", Adams said.
It is difficult to equate the Jesus of the Bible with the message of Britain First. Scripture calls us to welcome the orphan and the alien, and that needs to be central to Christianity, particularly in this current climate.
Speaking to Christian Today in 2014, Paul Golding, leader of Britain First, said: "Jesus Christ did use physical violence according to the Gospels in the temple in Jerusalem, and he met a very violent end. He preached love and forgiveness etc, but he also said he didn't come to bring peace; he came to bring division and a sword, he came to bring fire upon the world to sort the world out."
But though Jesus did clear the Temple, to take this story out of context, manipulate it and use it to justify prejudice is not OK.
The true face of Christianity is found not by brandishing crosses in hate, but in those living by Jesus' example: building, not breaking communities.
Although only a few people are showing up for these "Christian patrols" at the moment, Fransen claims that membership of Britain First is "swelling by the thousands".
The group has planned another Christian Patrol, this time through Dewsbury, which Fransen described as having "Islamic extremists coming out of the woodwork".
The deputy leader, who is of foreign descent herself, said that, "the indigenous people in Britain don't want their own towns turned into Muslim ghettos. It doesn't look like Britain any more."
Tell Mama, a charity that monitors Islamophobia in the UK, shared the concern that "these inflammatory actions continue with Britain First trying to pain themselves as 'defenders of Christian values', something that they are far from".
The fear is that people who are on the receiving end of this violent action, into whose communities Britain First storm brandishing white crosses, will begin to equate this hate-filled action with Christianity.
We need to stand against their appropriation and distortion of the cross.
Follow Florence Taylor on Twitter: @Flo_Taylor