Archbishops call for voters to shun the BNP and other extremists

By staff writers
26 May 2009

As public anger and dissatisfaction over corruption in the mainstream political system grows, the Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York have made a joint appeal to voters not to support the BNP and other racist or extremist parties in protest.

The appeal comes in the run-up to the European Parliamentary and local elections which take place across the country on 4 June 2009.

Earlier this year, the Church of England passed a resolution against its ordained ministers and staff belonging to "organisations that contradict the duty to promote race equality". This would include the British National Party, which has sought a veneer of respectability in recent months but which remains at heart repulsively racist and xenophobic, say critics.

The archbishops particularly highlight the use of Christian language by the BNP, which has produced election posters featuring Jesus.

They say: “Christians have been deeply disturbed by the conscious adoption by the BNP of the language of our faith when the effect of those policies is not to promote those values but to foster fear and division within communities, especially between people of different faiths or racial background."

However, the Archbishop of York, while fully condemning the BNP, has himself increasingly employed the language of God and nation, Empire and the rhetoric of a 'Christian country' to defend a privileged place for the Church of England and has extolled the virtues of flag-waving.

He has been warned (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9105) by the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia that pro-Christendom rhetoric, too readily conflating the identity and interests of church, crown and state, is in danger of playing into the hands of the far right.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been under fire for suggesting that the continual revelations about parliamentarians' expenses amounts to "humiliation" and may damage democracy - although he agrees that action needs to be taken on such abuses.

An opinion poll commissioned by Ekklesia and conducted by ComRes this weekend, indicates that the public are not turning away from politics but are disillusioned with what their elected representatives have been doing and want to see real change.

Anti-racism campaigners argue that the BNP and others who hide in its shadows need to be exposed and challenged for their attempts to exploit anger at the failure of the system for their own divisive purposes. They urge people to vote against them, as well as for a better society.

Hope Not Hate (http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/), a coalition which is "celebrating modern Britain and exposing the extremism behind the BNP" will be marking 2 June 2009 as 'Democracy Day.' It is sending a bus round the country to challenge racist politics and is working to involve people in grassroots action.

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Also on Ekklesia: 'How the Church should uphold diversity', by Vasantha Gnanadoss, whose Private Motion against racism was passed by the C of E General Synod in February 2009 - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9521

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The full statement from the archbishops is as follows:

“The European Parliamentary and local elections on June 4th [2009] will take place at a time of extraordinary turbulence in our democratic system. It is a time for great vigilance over how to exercise our democratic right to vote.

“The temptation to stay away or register a protest vote in order to send a negative signal to the parties represented at Westminster will be strong. In our view, however, it would be tragic if the understandable sense of anger and disillusionment with some MPs over recent revelations led voters to shun the ballot box.

“Those whom we elect to local councils and the European Parliament will represent us and our collective interests for many years to come. It is crucial to elect those who wish to uphold the democratic values and who wish to work for the common good in a spirit of public service which urgently needs to be reaffirmed in these difficult days.

“There are those who would exploit the present situation to advance views that are the very opposite of the values of justice, compassion and human dignity [which]are rooted in our Christian heritage.

“Christians have been deeply disturbed by the conscious adoption by the BNP of the language of our faith when the effect of those policies is not to promote those values but to foster fear and division within communities, especially between people of different faiths or racial background.

“This is not a moment for voting in favour of any political party whose core ideology is about sowing division in our communities and hostility on grounds of race, creed or colour; it is an opportunity for renewing the vision of a community united by mutual respect, high ethical standards and the pursuit of justice and peace.

“We hope that electors will use their vote on June 4th to renew the vision of a community united by the common good, public service and the pursuit of justice.”

Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

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