How far-right party Britain First is gaining traction through 'Christian' ideology

(Photo: Debbie Schiel)

Extreme right-wing parties such as Britain First are fast gaining support, aided by a political elite which has "deliberately ripped up our Christian heritage", a leading campaigner told Christian Today.

Alan Craig, formerly the leader of the Christian People's Alliance and now a UKIP supporter, said that the Christian appeal of far-right groups is a natural response "to the political elite, which has deliberately ripped up our Christian heritage over the last 50 years, deliberately attacked it, undermined it and our society is poorer for it."

"I'm not surprised that at long last people are rising up and saying 'enough is enough', we've been badly led by leaders who have wrecked our heritage," he said.

Craig admitted that some political expressions "are fairly ugly", but stressed the importance of politicians talking about issues such as immigration, and said the popularity of groups like Britain First serves as an indication that the general population is "angry at the way culture is going".

Main-party politicians, he added, have an "inbuilt hostility against Christianity".

"Of course they [far-right groups] are getting traction" because they appeal to ordinary people, he said.

"Some of this can be ugly, there's no smooth PR, because it's coming out of people's guts and bellies – they're fed up, and I agree with them. As a Christian, I want to be on the side of the outsider and the marginalised...the powerful have got it all sewn up."

Britain First has been compared to fascism, and is known largely for its arguably misleading and offensive posts on Facebook, where it boasts over 580,000 'likes' to date – more than the Conservative and Labour parties put together.

One widely shared posting on social media claimed that illegal immigrants and refugees are being given benefits of £29,900 a year – a figure that Christian Today was unable to find substantiation for.

The mother of Drummer Lee Rigby earlier this year criticised the group's use of her son's image during an election campaign, forcing the Electoral Commission to issue an apology.

As stated on its website, the party's first principle is a commitment to "the maintenance of British national sovereignty, independence and freedom". It campaigns primarily against mass immigration, and its rhetoric repeatedly calls for a return to 'Christian culture'.

Former BNP councillor Paul Golding, who has led Britain First since 2011, yesterday defended his party's stance, insisting that Britain "is built on Christianity".

Speaking to Christian Today, Golding 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."

When asked how he reconciled discriminatory policies with a Christian ethos, he responded: "Quite easily."

"All through the Bible from beginning to end, it doesn't talk about the brotherhood of man, it talks about nations and people. Quite frankly, if God wanted the world to be one, he would have made it one, but he made it into different nations," Golding added.

"There's no need for hatred or enmity between different nations; we want to cooperate and be friends [with other countries] but we don't want our country to be demographically taken away from us and us to be made a minority. It's nothing to do with race, we're also opposed to the millions of white Europeans in this country, and we have black activists...[To call us] 'racists' is just a silencing tactic created by the left wing of politics to get us to shut up."

Golding says critics who accuse his party of racism are "absolutely" wrong. "What we stand for is not at all at odds with Christianity, our ideology is a Christian ideology," he said.

A regular church attender, Golding said although he doesn't "really bother with denominations," he'd consider himself Protestant. "At the end we're all Christians," he explained, though he wouldn't share which church he's part of due to security concerns.

At the heart of Britain First policies, he said, is a concern that the country is moving away from Christian principles. "Marriage is no longer sacred or respected, and neither are family values. This country used to be renowned for decency and manners – there's an old quip that 50 years ago if you trod on someone else's foot, they would apologise to you, such was the level of manners for British people – and we've lost that completely.

"Our entire moral, cultural and religious fabric is falling away, and making us a much weaker and more degenerate country."

He believes that many of the party's supporters are also Christians. A survey of its 155,000 registered activists and supporters found that 75 per cent identified with Christianity, and only a minority considered themselves atheist.

In response to Golding's assertions, commentator Andy Walton warned of a "growing trend" in far-right parties of trying to appeal to the idea of Christian heritage in Britain.

"When Nick Griffin was in charge of the BNP he talked about defending Christians and defending Christian culture," he said.

"Christianity and the Gospel don't need defending - God doesn't need defending by anyone, and we as Christians certainly don't need to be defended by a group of fascists."

Walton added that while the Gospel can indeed be "divisive", its aims are fundamentally different to those of far-right parties.

"The goal of the Gospel is not to alienate and cause misery and mire...The aim of the Gospel is to bring all things and all peoples, all races and all nations under Christ, which is very different and a much more radical perspective than fascism."

Vasantha Gnanadoss, a member of the General Synod who brought forward a motion in 2009 to ban members from belonging to organisations which do not promote race equality, stressed that the message of the Church must be that "we all, whatever ethnicity we are, belong together. That's what the Church promotes".

"If they [political parties] do not promote race equality, then they are not doing that."

Any clergy, ordinand or lay person who represents the church cannot be a member of the National Front or the BNP according to the 2009 measure, and it is possible for "other organisations to be added to that group", she added.

Ian Geary, an executive member of Christians on the Left, criticised Britain First's controversial tactics. "It is hard to see how the Jesus of the Bible would invade Mosques in order to intimidate worshippers, including women and children, and wear Paramilitary style uniforms to frighten people," he said.

"Yes Jesus spoke up agianst injustice and was not shy of righteous anger. But we should be very careful before we use one incident to justify our own prejudices. Scripture is full of exhortations to welcome the orphan and the alien in our midst. We believe this has never been more important, noting that embrace is not the same thing as agreement. We should be fearful of nationalistic idolatry and our world would be better served if as Christians we employed a 'kingdom first' rather than a 'britain first' mentality."

Geary added: "The Jesus of the Bible's message is of love, compassion, forgiveness and grace. Britain First by their actions and statements seem to stand against these principles. It is very difficult to see how they are inspired by Jesus Christ.

"Those inspired by Jesus live out the example of his justice, mercy and compassion by serving in their local foodbank, getting the unemployed into work and bringing together estranged communities in the spirit of the common good. They also support voting in elections, standing for public office and a range of positive Christian engagement in politics driven by an insatiable desire to heal a broken world."