An Anglican church in the Windsor constituency has been accused of “handing the Devil a megaphone” after running a hustings event which included the local candidate of the far-right British National Party (BNP).
Holy Trinity Church in Sunningdale invited all six local candidate to the event yesterday evening (27 April), including the BNP's Peter Phillips. Their decision goes against the advice issued by the Church of England's Archbishops' Council, who recently urged churches not to give a platform to racist candidates.
After taking his seat on the panel, the Green Party candidate Derek Wall explained to the audience that he was disappointed that the BNP had been given a place, before walking out of the event.
The Liberal Democrat candidate Julian Tisi applauded Wall's comments, but decided to remain for the debate.
Wall, who had earlier attempted to persuade Holy Trinity Church not to give the BNP a space on the platform, told the audience that, “There is no place on my moral compass marked 'Debate with racist BNP in place of worship'”.
The event highlights controversies over whether or not BNP candidates should be invited to hustings. A large number of churches have attracted publicity for refusing to do so.
When questioned by Ekklesia on their reasons for inviting the BNP, Holy Trinity Church stated simply that, “We invited all six of the official candidates”.
In an earlier email exchange with Wall, a representative of the church said that there were “legal implications for not inviting all candidates”. There is a frequent misconception that hustings organisers are legally obliged to invite all candidates. But the hustings advice issued by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland makes clear that this is not the case.
Explaining his position to Ekklesia, Wall said “It is very well to defend debate but arguing the toss with those who are racist brings their foul views into the mainstream. I am also concerned that, although not racist, other parties will condemn the BNP and then talk tough on migration”.
He added, “Churches should provide sanctuary for those in need, not act as platforms for those who hate. To hold church hustings with far right parties like the BNP and National Front is like handing the Devil a megaphone.”
This evening (28 April), Windsor constituency is due to see another church-based hustings to which the BNP have been invited, this time at All Saints' Church in Dedworth.
A representative of All Saints' Church told Ekklesia that, “Following a discussion at our last PCC [Parochial Church Council] meeting, we decided to invite all candidates, as we are strong believers in democracy”.
It remains to be seen whether the events of yesterday evening will cause them to review their decision.