Bishops resist BNP's attempt to win the 'Christian' vote

02 November 2006

CHURCHES are being urged to make it absolutely clear in the run-up to the local elections next week that Christians do not support the British National Party (BNP).

The BNP is fielding hundreds of candidates, especially in areas of the North and Midlands characterised by high unemployment and social unrest and where local grievances are perceived to be unaddressed. The party is targeting 105 seats in Yorkshire and Humberside, of which 23 are in Leeds; and 85 in the West Midlands, including 40 in Birmingham. It polled 800,000 votes in the 2004 European elections, 100,000 of them from Yorkshire, where there are eight BNP councillors.

The party has made direct attempts to win over Christians through its so-called Christian "front", the Christian Council of Britain. Its placards, "Defend Christian Values", have been in evidence at BNP demonstrations in Leeds and at protests such as those against Jerry Springer - the Opera ( News, 17 March).

The party manifesto includes a pledge to keep school morning assemblies based on Christian worship, and a commitment to remove halal and kosher meat from school menus, ostensibly on the grounds of animal cruelty. It also promises a council-funded St George's Day festival.

The BNP is exploiting faith tensions, says a report from the  Churches Regional Commission in Yorkshire and Humberside. One leaflet asks voters: "Are you concerned about the growth of Islam in Britain? Make May 4th referendum day." It adds: "Defend our Christian culture."

The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, and the Bishop of Pontefract, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, were among faith leader to issue warnings this week about the BNP's claim to speak for Christians in Britain.

Bishop Robinson said: "We distance the mainstream churches from the self-named 'Christian Council of Britain' and its unacceptable interpretations of biblical texts to support BNP policies.

"We do not recognise the attempts by the BNP to promote themselves as a party upholding Christian values. Jesus gave a very specific task to his followers that they should 'Love your neighbour as much as you love yourself.' The churches in West Yorkshire are working hard with other faith communities to contribute positively to building bridges and better understanding in our communities. Any attempts to undo this work must be resisted. Please use your vote on 4 May and send a firm message to the BNP."

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Jack Nicholls, led a walk for peace on Sunday to show solidarity with other faith leaders and communities in the city, where the BNP is fielding four candidates. The group walked from the Al-Rahman mosque to Firth Park Methodist Church, with a short, silent vigil outside each place of worship, and prayers for unity and peace. The leaders issued a joint statement reaffirming that all their faiths were incompatible with any party or philosophy based on hatred or treating people as inferior because of their race or beliefs.

"We reject the current demonisation of the Muslim community as an affront to all our beliefs and as a danger to the whole community. We can only continue to move forward as a city through mutual tolerance and respect," the statement said.

"We assert that racism is a sin, and are appalled at the claim made by groups such as the British National Party and the Christian Council of Britain that they speak for Christians, when in fact their messages of division and hate are the opposite of Christian values."

But Harehills in Leeds can boast successful efforts to deter the BNP from fielding a candidate this time round. The ward of 17,000 people was targeted four years ago with overtly racist literature.

Canon Alan Taylor, an Anglican parish priest and Lib Dem councillor, was re-elected two years ago. In 2002, he supported a fellow candidate of Asian origin and urged that the BNP must be opposed ( News, April 2002). He said on Tuesday: "Concerted efforts over many years have seen the BNP give up in one of the most multi-racial areas of the city."

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