The Archbishop of York, has placed an advert in his local newspaper urging voters to come out against the BNP in Thursday's local elections.
In the advert, the Church of England's most senior black cleric Dr John Sentamu warns that if people fail to vote they will be sleepwalking into "a wall of hate".
The advert comes after criticism that he and other bishops in the church may be playing into the hands of extremist parties, by urging the defence of Britain's 'Christian culture'.
Groups such as the religious thinktank Ekklesia have warned that the BNP has recently stepped up its religious rhetoric. In recent local elections, the party's literature included copies of the controversial Mohammed cartoons. It also helped establish a 'Christian Council of Britain'. The goal appears to be to appeal to those in the population who identify with Christianity, but feel panicked both by 'liberal secularism' and the growth of Islam.
Writing in the last issue of the Church Times, Jonathan Bartley, co-director of Ekklesia warned : "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."
In the advert, which appears in York newspaper The Press, today, the Archbishop, says voters should beware of political parties which promise much but have policies that promote hate and division.
"Jesus warned us to be wary of wolves who come in sheep’s clothing," the Archbishop says in the quarter-page advert. "They come with honeycombed words, promising a New England, and a land of milk and honey. In reality they offer us a diet of bile and discord, a desert of hopelessness and policies which stoke the ashes of Clifford’s Tower."
Clifford's Tower was Britain's worst anti-Semitic attack, when 150 Jews were killed in York on March 16, 1190.
"If Apathy becomes the real winner on Thursday night, then those who seek to divide us will be elected, hiding under Apathy’s skirt," the advert continues, "My hope is that as you cast your vote on Thursday you do so with your eyes wide open so that our city does not sleepwalk into a wall of hate."
In 2004, when he was Bishop of Birmingham, Dr Sentamu placed a similar advertisement in the local press to encourage voting in the local and European elections.
The Ugandan-born Archbishop said before his enthronement in December 2005 that he would urge voters to defeat the BNP through the ballot box in the 2007 elections.
York has nine candidates from the British National Party (BNP) running in the local elections.
The advert comes after another senior Bishop urged voters to unseat BNP councillors in his diocese of Blackburn.