The Church of England has advised its clergy not to give the British National Party a platform in church buildings, or even meet with representatives of the racist party.
The advice comes in new updated guidance from the Archbishops’ Council Mission and Public Affairs Division issued today (1st February).
The Church has previously stopped short of recommending that the far right party's candidates not be invited to meetings in the run up to the general election, at which local people can grill their election candidates. Other churches, such as the Methodist Church, have however been more unequivocal.
However, the new guidance acknowledges that: "The recent discourse of the far-right has developed in a direction where intolerance is often cloaked in the language of culture and faith, both of which can be used to fuel racism and religious hatred.
"Lately the British National Party has sought to promote itself as a guardian of ‘British Christian heritage’ against an increasing ‘islamification’ of British society and the leadership of the mainstream churches" the guidance says.
"BNP supporters and candidates claim to have established a ‘Christian Council of Britain’ which erroneously stresses the 'godly importance of race and nation'.
"Often those elected from such parties will seek to make civic capital through contact with church leaders to increase their local standing. Church leaders need to have thought through how they will react. Local churches may now be faced with deciding how to distance themselves from groups and councillors - whose racist policies and attitudes they opposed during the elections, while maintaining pastoral engagement with those who voted for them and council officials who continue their work as public servants."
The guidance suggests: "It is not advisable to meet groups promoting racist policies as this gives them credibility and publicity. It is advisable not to give them a platform in churches or church buildings, as this can be used to suggest support for their policies (even by implication). This is a decision that will need to be taken by groups organising activities around local campaigns and pre-election hustings.
"The Church cannot accommodate those who would discriminate on grounds of ethnicity" the new advice continues.
"There is a need for consistency and integrity when confronting racism. Racism is indivisible – we cannot attack it in one area collude with it in other areas of life."
"The 2010 General Election will be fought on different issues and through a different system to the 2009 European and local elections.
"Christians need to be alert to the language and policies evident in electioneering by extremists and more general anti-immigrant rhetoric. The BNP will almost certainly have election broadcasts."
The guidance also recommends that statements by local church leaders re-emphasising the Church’s abhorrence of racism and prejudice "should be prepared early and a decision taken about the appropriate time to make such an intervention".
Churches are under no legal obligation to include the BNP in election hustings meetings, the guidance points out, or give space to such parties for public meetings, if they consider this ‘association’ could have detrimental affect on their reputation and activities.