The Methodist Church has become the first major denomination in the UK to ban all its members from joining the British National Party (BNP).
A resolution passed by the annual Methodist Conference, meeting in Wolverhampton, declared that “No member of the Church can also be a member of a political party whose constitution, aims or objectives promote racism. This specifically includes, but is not solely limited to, the British National Party”.
The news follows a similar ban on Church of England clergy, but the Methodists have gone much further, saying that no-one can even be a member of the Church while also belonging to the BNP.
“We must be clear that racism is a denial of the Gospel” said Rev Sylvester Deigh, who proposed the motion.
“An openness to all people, regardless of nationality, is at the heart of Methodist identity” he continued.
The motion was seconded by the Rev Dr Angela Shier-Jones.
While strongly condemning racism and the BNP specifically, the motion declares that “those who support racist parties are also God’s children, and in need of love, hope and redemption”. Supporters of the measure are keen to emphasise that no-one will be banned from attending a church – only from membership of it.
The BNP have in recent months attempted to appeal to Christian voters, claiming to be protecting the UK's “Christian heritage”.
They have fielded the Rev Robert West as their candidate for the Norwich North by-election on 23rd July, though he has failed to make clear in which church he has been ordained.
Most Christian denominations have condemned the BNP and called on their members not to vote for it. However, the thinktank Ekklesia has pointed out that churches need to disassociate themselves from the “Christian nation” rhetoric which the BNP exploits.
The Methodist Church will now undertake the legal work required to put their agreed measures into practice and report back to the Methodist Conference in July 2010.