Churches Resist Extreme Force in Politics to Preserve Christian Britain

Throughout the week, church leaders have been very active in showing their standpoint for the coming elections in the UK and across Europe.

On 10th June 2004 European elections will be held, the London Mayoral and Assembly elections and local elections in many parts of the country. The British National Party (BNP) is planning to put forward as many candidates as possible.

Church leaders denounced the BNP as "racist and fascist" and urged people not to vote for it.

In the deep worry about the movement of BNP, the West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council (WYEC) has initiated the heads of mainstream Christian Churches across West Yorkshire to issue a “historic” joint statement deploring the policies of the BNP and calling on Christians to use their vote against the party.

The statement was signed in Leeds on Wednesday. Representatives from the Roman Catholic Church, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, West Yorkshire African-Caribbean Council of Churches, Quaker movement and other denominations all attended the signing ceremony.

The statement reads, “As Christians, we deplore all attempts to divide our society on race and asylum issues. We seek to follow the example of Christ who calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves.”

“We resist and challenge the messages from the British National Party against members of some faith communities and assert that all human beings are created equally in the image of God. We welcome and celebrate the contribution and example given by all people of faith to this multicultural area.”

The BNP have been accused of racial and religious hatred. They once used a slogan; “Defend Rights for Whites” but later changed it to “Building a Future for British Children”. Last year it ran a “campaign against Islam”, and produced downloadable leaflets on its website.

The motive may seem to be radical, as traditionally Christians are not supposed to have an active role in politics. Acknowledging the controversy, the signatories to the letter from church leaders have insisted they are not making a political statement but are trying to prevent voter apathy which could allow the BNP to gain a foothold.

Stephanie Rybak, executive secretary to the WYEC which drew up the statement, highlighted the danger and clarified, “We certainly would not say vote for such and such a party. We are simply saying vote for a candidate whose policies are those of inclusive welcome.”

The Rev Ian Black, vicar of St Mary's, Whitkirk, in Leeds, said, "The BNP is overtly racist. We should speak out now...I want to make it clear to anyone who votes for them that they are not voting for Christian Britain."

The Rev Peter Whittaker, chair of the West Yorkshire District United Reformed Church, added he denounced anyone who tried to divide people by scare stories.
Bishops have in the past been encouraged to take an overt political line partly by the example shown by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Recently, Dr William judged Prime Minister Tony Blair of weakening political trust by his handling of the war in Iraq through his sermon.

The action of the bishops follows a call by the General Synod for the Church of England to affirm “our multiracial, multicultural society”. It also said that supporting “a political party that offers racist policies is incompatible with Christian discipleship”.

However, some people do not welcome the intervention of religious persons in politics. Yesterday, the Rt Reverend Jack Nicholls revealed at a public rally that he received abuse from BNP supporters for urging voters to reject the BNP. Most of the abuse had been sent by e-mail or post, accusing him of interfering in things that did not concern him.

Religious people may need to reflect the true and major role they can contribute to make a better world.