While Dietrich Bonhoeffer was working as a pastor in London, he met a number of other German clergy in Bradford in November 1933 to sign a declaration against the Nazification of the Church. Last week, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Bradford Declaration, a new declaration was signed.
At this remarkable event, jointly organised by the diocese of Bradford and the local TUC, a group gathered in the German church in Bradford where Bonhoeffer and his colleagues had met. They committed themselves afresh to the fight against fascism, and specifically against the British National Party (BNP).
Andy Sykes, a former member of the BNP, is now a project worker in the anti-Nazi cause. Standing just along from him was Altaf Arif, President of Bradford Trades Council, whose father was stabbed to death in a racist attack. Few occasions can have the power to bring such people together. We listened to a Holocaust survivor say Kaddish, and we prayed that the horror of such slaughter would never be seen again.
Yet, just a few days before, that infamous list of BNP members had been made public, and on it was the name of an Anglican priest in the diocese of Bradford. This man is retired, and no longer has permission to officiate, but it is deeply shocking none the less.
“The Bishop should have a stern word,” said the TUC’s anti-fascist campaigner in Yorkshire, Paul Meszaros. Others have been more direct.
All of this has placed into sharp focus the need to pass Vasantha Gnanadoss’s private member’s motion at General Synod this February. It proposes that the Church adopt a policy, similar to one the police now have, that membership of the BNP is incompatible with being a cleric or ordinand, or indeed any sort of church worker.
I would go further, and insist that membership of the BNP is wholly incompatible with being any sort of Christian. This needs saying loud and clearly because there are those who currently use the word Christian as a cover for anti-Muslim and thus anti-Asian prejudice. Some on the far Right want to twist our faith so that it becomes a code-word for racial hatred. That is the most outrageous heresy, and turns the truth on its head.
Bonhoeffer lost his life fighting the Nazis and their wicked views on race. His witness ought to remind us of the sad truth that wicked racist ideology is able to grow even in Christians who profess the same faith as we do. As we queued up to sign the new declaration, it struck me how terrible it was that, 75 years later, such a thing still seems necessary.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, in south London.