The Church of England voted today in favour of banning clergy and some lay staff from joining the far-right British National Party
Members of the General Synod voted to back a motion brought by Metropolitan Police civilian worker Vasantha Gnanadoss calling on bishops to formulate a comparable policy to the Association of Chief Police Officers' ban on police membership of the BNP.
Miss Gnanadoss, who received support at the General Synod from former Met Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair, said passing the motion would make it "much more difficult" for the BNP or other similar organisations to exploit the claim that they had support within the Church of England.
She said: "If supporting organisations like the BNP is inconsistent with Christian discipleship, it seems obvious that clergy and others who speak for the Church should not be members."
Acpo policy states that that no member of the police service may be a member of an organisation whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the "general duty" to promote race equality. This specifically includes the BNP, the policy states.
The motion backed today by the General Synod called for the Church of England bishops to draw up a similar policy to apply to all clergy, ordinands and employed lay persons who speak on behalf of the Church of England. The motion received support from the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu and the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.
Dr Sentamu told the Synod he was a member of the Baganda tribe. But he said: "As a Christian, I joined another tribe, it is the tribe of Jesus Christ, and in that tribe all are welcome."
The vote from the General Synod comes in spite of a warning in a background paper prepared by William Fittall, secretary general of the General Synod, warning of possible legal difficulties. He said clergy could not currently be disciplined for lawful political activity and the BNP was not a proscribed political party. He also warned that the Church could be open to discrimination claims under such a policy.
Those backing the motion included the Rt Rev Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn. He said it was "timely" in view of the recession.
He said: "In these difficult economic times there are those who could be tempted to look for solutions among extreme political parties and we need to underline that the politics of hatred can never come up with a solution to our problems."
He added: "The religion of the incarnation cannot support in any shape or form racist policies and those who exercise the representative ministry cannot be members of racist parties or organisations for it is just not possible to be racist and speak in the name of Jesus Christ."