Church and the BNP: Addressing the symptoms, not the illness

By Jonathan Bartley
February 1, 2010

It's good to see the Church of England now openly acknowledging in the latest guidance from the Archbishop's council, that they have a problem with the BNP's moves to portray itself as a 'Christian' party defending the 'Christian heritage' of the nation.

We have been monitoring, exposing and challenging the BNP's activities in the area since I did a broadcast in the run up to the 2004 European elections, when the BNP's press officer called in to a programme I was doing on Radio 5 live, a claimed to be the party of Christianity.

But the C of E, with their bans and exclusions, are still not facing up to the central issue. Their own references to "Christian Britain", often employed by church leaders, are encouraging the association of national identity with religion, and playing into the racist party's hands.

Whilst the major church denominations have all rightly been outspoken in their challenge to the BNP, their messages have consistently been undermined by continual references to 'Christian Britain'.

With their work in deprived communities and care for immigrants and asylum seekers, churches are undoubtedly ideally placed to challenge racism. But they also need to dissect and reject the conflatation of faith, race and nation.

Most recently we saw it in statements by campaign groups and bishops around the Equality Bill, which often focused on the 'Christian Heritage'. We also saw it in the statements by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, saying that priority should be given to migrants from 'Christian countries', and Bishop Jonathan Gledhill talking about ethnic minorities being 'hosted by Britain'. All this reveals an underlying mentality that is prevalent within much of the church. There is a belief that the nation state and its borders can be equated with the idea of the 'Christian country' and 'Christian values'. Migration in turn, is perceived as a threat to those values.

For the Church to effectively counter the BNP it needs to engage with the ideology. Until it does so, it will only be dealing with the symptoms, rather than the underlying illness which affects both the BNP and many churches.

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