BNP hits back against churches

BNP hits back against churches

By staff writers
28 Apr 2004

BNP hits back against churches

-28/4/04

The British National Party (BNP) has hit back at church leaders who denounced the party as ìracist and fascistî scaremongers.

The heads of major churches across West Yorkshire gathered in Leeds to sign a ìhistoric joint statement deploring the racist policies of the BNP and calling on Christian people to use their voteî.

However the BNP has hit back accusing churches of "neo-marxism" being "confused" and insisted that religious leaders should stay out of politics.

The comments from the BNP were made by a BNP press officer during a phone-in on BBC's radio Five Live this morning.

Jonathan Bartley, director of the theological think-tank Ekklesia was taking part in a studio discussion on the relationship between religion and politics at the time that the BNP's Phil Edwards called.

Ekklesia's director defended the action by the churches and told the BNP press officer that orthodox Christianity was at odds with the BNP.

He pointed out that the church had a times in history failed to speak out forcefully enough against political parties from the far-right. This was a mistake that churches must not repeat, Jonathan Bartley said.

He added; "We are in a privileged position in the UK and it is right that we look at sharing those resources with the rest of the world. This is orthodox Christianity."

A motion to sign a local statement of unity, drawn up by community groups, was passed at the diocesan synod, with only two votes against.

The letter follows the launch last week by the Methodist Church of "Countering Political Extremism," an online information resource for any church or other groups concerned about the rise of far-right political parties such as the BNP.

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 West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council (WYEC), which drew up the statement, said: ìWe feel the BNP is a deeply worrying movement and its policies are racist and fascist.î

She added: ìWeíre concerned at the level of voter apathy, which means people wonít vote. If they donít, thereís a real danger that extremist parties might get elected.

ìWe certainly would not say vote for such and such a party, we are saying vote for a candidate whose policies are those of inclusive welcome.î

The Rev Peter Whittaker, chair of the West Yorkshire District United Reformed Church, added: ìI denounce anyone who tries to divide people by scare stories, by fears and not by working inclusively.î

Church leaders who attended the signing ceremony at the Wesley Road Chapel in Armley included: Bishop of Ripon and Leeds the Rt Rev John Packer, the Rt Rev Arthur Roche of the Roman Catholic Church, chairman of the Methodist Church in Leeds the Rev Michael Townsend, Moderator of the United Reformed Church the Rev Arnold Harrison, regional minister of the Baptist Church the Rev Ernie Whalley, Pastor Gloria Hanley of the West Yorkshire African-Caribbean Council of Churches, and Eva Pinthus, this yearís chair of the WYEC, representing the Quaker movement.

The statement has also been signed by other church leaders who were not able to attend in person, including the Bishops of Bradford and Wakefield.

The full text of the statement reads: ìThe church leaders of West Yorkshire are deeply concerned that the British National Party is currently active in the area and proposing to field candidates for seats in the local and European elections.

ìAs 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.

ìWe 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.

ìWe urge all Christian people to exercise their right to vote and to vote only for candidates whose policies reflect a spirit of inclusive welcome.î

The British National Party (BNP) has hit back at church leaders who denounced the party as ìracist and fascistî scaremongers.

The heads of major churches across West Yorkshire gathered in Leeds to sign a ìhistoric joint statement deploring the racist policies of the BNP and calling on Christian people to use their voteî.

However the BNP has hit back accusing churches of "neo-marxism" being "confused" and insisted that religious leaders should stay out of politics.

The comments from the BNP were made by a BNP press officer during a phone-in on BBC's radio Five Live this morning.

Jonathan Bartley, director of the theological think-tank Ekklesia was taking part in a studio discussion on the relationship between religion and politics at the time that the BNP's Phil Edwards called.

Ekklesia's director defended the action by the churches and told the BNP press officer that orthodox Christianity was at odds with the BNP.

He pointed out that the church had a times in history failed to speak out forcefully enough against political parties from the far-right. This was a mistake that churches must not repeat, Jonathan Bartley said.

He added; "We are in a privileged position in the UK and it is right that we look at sharing those resources with the rest of the world. This is orthodox Christianity."

A motion to sign a local statement of unity, drawn up by community groups, was passed at the diocesan synod, with only two votes against.

The letter follows the launch last week by the Methodist Church of "Countering Political Extremism," an online information resource for any church or other groups concerned about the rise of far-right political parties such as the BNP.

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 West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council (WYEC), which drew up the statement, said: ìWe feel the BNP is a deeply worrying movement and its policies are racist and fascist.î

She added: ìWeíre concerned at the level of voter apathy, which means people wonít vote. If they donít, thereís a real danger that extremist parties might get elected.

ìWe certainly would not say vote for such and such a party, we are saying vote for a candidate whose policies are those of inclusive welcome.î

The Rev Peter Whittaker, chair of the West Yorkshire District United Reformed Church, added: ìI denounce anyone who tries to divide people by scare stories, by fears and not by working inclusively.î

Church leaders who attended the signing ceremony at the Wesley Road Chapel in Armley included: Bishop of Ripon and Leeds the Rt Rev John Packer, the Rt Rev Arthur Roche of the Roman Catholic Church, chairman of the Methodist Church in Leeds the Rev Michael Townsend, Moderator of the United Reformed Church the Rev Arnold Harrison, regional minister of the Baptist Church the Rev Ernie Whalley, Pastor Gloria Hanley of the West Yorkshire African-Caribbean Council of Churches, and Eva Pinthus, this yearís chair of the WYEC, representing the Quaker movement.

The statement has also been signed by other church leaders who were not able to attend in person, including the Bishops of Bradford and Wakefield.

The full text of the statement reads: ìThe church leaders of West Yorkshire are deeply concerned that the British National Party is currently active in the area and proposing to field candidates for seats in the local and European elections.

ìAs 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.

ìWe 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.

ìWe urge all Christian people to exercise their right to vote and to vote only for candidates whose policies reflect a spirit of inclusive welcome.î

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