Church issues new guidance on BNP

The Church of England has updated its guidance to churches detailing how they should approach far-right political parties and radical or racist groups.

Churches are told they do not have to make their premises available to far-right councillors for surgeries or to give them a platform as it could suggest support, and are advised against meeting racist groups to avoid giving them credibility and publicity.

The guidance warned that far-right candidates would seek to build up their local standing by making contact with church leaders and appropriating the language of faith.

“The recent discourse of the far-right has developed in a direction where intolerance is often cloaked in the language of culture and faith, both of which can be used to fuel racism and religious hatred,” it said.

Church leaders were urged to think through how to react to and distance themselves from racist groups and councillors while maintaining pastoral engagement with those who voted for them and council officials having to work alongside them.

Church leaders were encouraged to unite with local community leaders in countering the claims and fear-mongering of far-right parties.

“In the long-term, opposition to such parties requires broad coalitions rooted in the life of the local community and committed to long-term effective engagement,” the guidance read.

“If churches are to be part of the healing of these communities then their ordained and lay leadership needs to be out and about in the community and engaged with its local leaders, working together to address local concerns.

“There is a particular responsibility on the clergy to maintain confidence in the wider community so that the church can play a key role in building community trust and respect to resist those promoting racist divisions and mistrust.”

Churches were told to be aware that racist groups would try to operate covertly and that activists were “increasingly using the cloak of respectability to gain a foothold in local politics”.

The guidance draws from the experience of churches in areas where racist councillors and representatives enjoy strong support, as well as churches that have joined local campaigns to oppose extremist parties.

The Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs, said: “The note is advisory and seeks to enable church leaders to discern an appropriate course of action within areas where community relations are often fragile or fragmented. Our faith calls us to develop and sustain the hope and vision that things can be different.”

The Church of England has repeatedly expressed its opposition to racist political parties. In 2004, General Synod passed a resolution declaring racism to be “an affront to the nature of God”, before stating in 2007 that support for racist political organisations was “inconsistent with Christian discipleship”. Last year, Synod banned Church members from becoming a member of racist organisations.

The Church has also repeatedly distanced itself from attempts by the BNP to fashion itself as the party of Christians.

In a joint statement last year, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said Christians had been “deeply disturbed by the conscious adoption by the BNP of the language of our faith”.