Responding to the forthright call of the Anglican Archbishop of York for voters to reject the BNP and racist politics in the forthcoming elections, the religious think-tank Ekklesia has warned of the dangers of feeding the far right's agenda and called for a 'politics of hope'.
Writing in the last issue of the Church Times, Jonathan Bartley, co-director of Ekklesia, said: "Leading figures within the Church of England have become far more vocal in their calls to stem the tide of secularism, and to defend the predominant 'Christian culture' of Britain. The uncomfortable fact is that this puts the Church into the position of arguing the same political point about national identity as the BNP."
"Of course the rationales of these messages are very different. The agenda behind the BNP's claims is essentially a cultural one - partly in opposition to an alleged liberal elite, and partly in an attempt to whip up fear of minority faiths. In contrast, few would question the commitment of the Church of England to combating racism. But the time has come to face the fact that when it uses 'Christian nation' rhetoric, it risks encouraging support for right-wing extremists."
Ekklesia says that defensiveness and self-assertion on the part of the church is not a helpful way of responding to the challenges it faces in a post-Christendom society - where it is no longer in a 'natural majority' and cannot impose its will.
The antidote to 'victim narratives' is action to promote hope, says the think-tank. For Christians this means practicing nonviolence and conflict transformation, the politics of forgiveness, economic sharing, environmental action, support for migrants and displaced people, restorative justice, healing communication, a relational approach to sexuality, non-compulsion in religion and beliefs, respectful engagement with those of other faith and non-religious convictions, and church as alternative community.