Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan has led a scathing attack on the British National Party over its claims to represent Christian values
Party leader Nick Griffin has previously said the BNP stands in the tradition of the Crusader knights who fought Muslim armies. He claims the BNP are fighting the “Islamification” of Britain. Writing in the BNP newspaper Voice of Freedom, Mr Griffin said: “The British National Party will never allow our children to become a minority in their own homeland. Just like our Crusader ancestors, we will fight to preserve our Christian culture and heritage.”
But Dr Morgan, together with fellow Welsh faith leaders, said the right-wing party’s vision ran counter to a Christian understanding of humanity. In an interview with the Western Mail to coincide with his annual Christmas address, Dr Morgan said: “I really do object to their claim to represent Christian cultural values. Unless you’re white and Anglo-Saxon you don’t seem to count for very much. That runs totally against any Christian understanding of humanity where we believe each person is made in the image of God.”
In November senior BNP members voted “overwhelmingly” in favour of holding a ballot on whether to allow non-white people to join. This followed court action brought by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The case is adjourned until January 28.
Dr Morgan was confident the BNP would not make inroads, saying: “I certainly don’t think it’s much of an issue in Wales.”
The party responded furiously to Dr Morgan’s comments. BNP deputy leader Simon Darby said: “If these church leaders are not prepared to defend Christianity themselves, they should not complain when someone else does just that. It’s all very well people like the Archbishop talking about defending Christian values but at the end of the day they are not prepared to do anything about it. He should probably be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act.
“Whole swathes of London, for example, are no longer Christian, and people like the Archbishop have been quite happy to stand by and see churches turned into mosques. If someone doesn’t stand up for real Christian values, it won’t be a Christian country for very much longer, but an Islamic republic.”
Guto Prys ap Gwynfor, president of the Union of Welsh Independent Churches, urged people not to support parties which promote division in the upcoming Westminster elections. He said: “We are firmly opposed to any kind of incitement to hatred, fear of the other, or suspicion of our neighbour – whoever he or she may be. We would urge people to vote according to their conscience and support politicians and policies which best reflect and uphold the values of the Christian Gospel.”
Denying that a respect for other cultures threatened Welsh culture, he added: “In Wales, we have a long tradition of neighbourly respect and concern for other cultures and beliefs. This need not conflict with our desire to uphold our own faith and culture.”
Jim Stewart, a spokesman for Evangelical Alliance Wales – which represents churches from 30 denominations – also condemned the attempt to portray the BNP as defenders of Christianity. He said: “Christians need to do their homework in the run-up to the General Election so that they are informed and vote responsibly. Of particular concern at the moment are attempts being made by the BNP to ingratiate themselves with the church and to claim to speak on behalf of Christians. Although we recognise that Christians will vote for a number of different parties in the General Election – including a number of minor parties as well as the four main ones – the case of the BNP is different.”
Mr Stewart said the BNP’s beliefs were “anti-Christian” and had “no place in a civilised, welcoming Welsh society.” He said: “The BNP categorically does not speak on behalf of Christians in Wales.”
Meanwhile, in a wide-ranging interview, Dr Morgan set out the challenges he sees facing Wales in 2010. He believes the Church in Wales has a vital role to play in a modern nation where families fear for loved ones in Afghanistan. The Anglican leader is further convinced that an overhaul of mental health services is urgently needed.
Supporting the families of members of the armed forces has become an important pastoral task in churches throughout Wales. He said: “Whatever one thinks of whether we ought to be in [Afghanistan], the fact is these decisions have been made whether they were right or wrong. That’s not the fault of soldiers.
“They go because that’s what they are required to do. The families left behind are at times worried sick. If you are in the middle of a conflict you get on with the job and you don’t always think about the dangers whereas families at home are just dreading the knock on the door or the ring of the telephone.”
Arguing that Wales must confront crises on its own doorstep, he said: “I think the nation is beginning to realise we need to rediscover fundamental values to build a better world and we can’t just leave it to economists.”
Congregations may have shrunk but he is convinced the network of more than 1,000 places of worship gives the church a unique insight into the realities of Wales at the start of a new decade. He said: “There are still a lot of children who live in poverty and we don’t realise just how much poverty there is in Wales. It is not just overseas.”
The archbishop is also alarmed by the “chasm” between the wealthiest and poorest and contends there is a direct link between deprivation and mental illness.
“A lot of that has been caused by problems such as poverty and loneliness,” he said.
Concerned by research which suggests a quarter of children and young people may suffer from some form of disorder, he said: “That’s incredible. It seems to me mental health is still very much a taboo subject.”
But Dr Morgan remains convinced that the Anglican church can make a unique contribution in contemporary society. He said: “It’s the only organisation in every community where people from one-day-old to 100-years-old come together. It doesn’t matter what social strata you come from – you’re welcome.”