The extremist British National Party (BNP) is to launch an advertising campaign featuring Jesus Christ. The Far Right party will use the advert which features a bible verse quoting Jesus' words about persecution, in the run up to the European Elections in June. It comes after the Church of England passed a resolution at its General Synod last month banning clergy from being members of the party.
The thinktank Ekklesia has monitored attempts by the BNP since 2003 to present itself as a ‘Christian Party’. It has also warned that misleading stories about ‘Christian persecution’ in the UK, as well as appeals by church leaders to recover the idea of 'Christian Britain', have played into the Far Right’s hands.
In recent years the BNP has used religious rhetoric with increasing frequency. 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 is to appeal to those in the population who identify with Christianity, but feel panicked both by 'liberal secularism' and the growth of Islam.
An analysis of the BNP membership list by the thinktank Ekklesia highlighted a number of members who were identified as Christian, taking part in Bible studies, running Christian businesses including bookshops or who were active in their churches.
In an email sent yesterday to BNP supporters, BNP leader Nick Griffin said: “The British National Party is the only political party which genuinely supports Britain's Christian heritage. It is the only party which will defend our ancient faith and nation from the threat of Islamification. What has become of the Christian church in this country? Instead of inclusively ‘embracing all’ which the church claims is its basis, certain groups within that body have banned people from their ranks simply because of their membership in the British National Party.
“Surely if God calls a man to his service, no church has the right to contradict HIS holy will! For many years, the churches in this country scrupulously avoided being politically biased. Nowadays however we see a small number of clerics and bishops openly preaching hatred towards the BNP. Church leaders actively shun the word of God on issues like sodomy, abortion and social justice. With this in mind I invite you to preview our European election billboard (pictured above) aimed at attracting even more Christian voters.
“Jesus was viewed as a revolutionary figure, hated and hounded to death, not by 'evil men' but by the corrupt hypocrites who ran the church. Has nothing changed in two thousand years? On June 4th, the leaders of Britain's churches will find out that millions of good decent people support the British National Party. It's not racist to support British jobs for British workers or to be opposed to militant Islam, it's just common sense and in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
But Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the thinktank Ekklesia said: “This is clearly a gross misrepresentation of both Jesus Christ and Christianity. Jesus was completely opposed to bigotry. He is recorded in the Gospels as challenging those who didn’t welcome foreigners - not as working for their exclusion.
“But the church must critically reflect on how it is aiding the Far Right. Leading figures within the Church of England have become far more vocal recently 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.
“Church figures should also exercise caution in their uncritical backing for high-profile cases of ‘Christian persecution’ which have featured most prominently in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail. These stories have often been misreported, but used nevertheless by church leaders as examples of a wider move of discrimination against Christians. This is creating a victim mentality which will only serve to drive people into the BNP’s hands.
“But the latest advert from the BNP which quotes Jesus Christ should be seen by the church as an opportunity for a new approach. Instead of adopting a defensive stance which pleases those seeking to make political capital out of civic 'de-Christianization', the Church should refocus on the vocation of Jesus, who clearly challenged bigotry in all its forms. Whilst 'Christian nation' rhetoric will only create more BNP support, a focus on Jesus Christ will undermine the party's ideology completely.”