LondonChurch of England leaders are pleading with the public not to vote for the extreme right wing British National Party in elections for the European Parliament on June 4, in what is seen as an unprecedented direct involvement in political debate.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and his deputy, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who represent more than 100 Anglican bishops, have urged voters not to allow anger over a scandal about lawmakers’ expenses to be exploited by those who the clerics say hold the opposite of Christian values.
In a joint statement issued on May 24 after a meeting of Anglican bishops, the two Anglican leaders described the BNP as adopting policies that foster fear and division within communities.
“There are those who would exploit the present situation to advance views that are the very opposite of the values of justice, compassion and human dignity that are rooted in our Christian heritage,” they stated.
Many Christians have strongly criticised BNP election posters depicting Christ and employing a quotation that implies he would vote for the party. The Church of England bans its clergy and lay staff from BNP membership.
“Christians have been deeply disturbed by the conscious adoption by the BNP of the language of our faith, when the effect of those policies is not to promote those values, but to foster fear and division within communities, especially between people of different faiths or racial background,” the archbishops’ statement noted.
A number of analysts believe that British voters could turn to the smaller, and sometimes more extreme parties, in the European Union election to punish Britain’s main parties for an ongoing scandal about bogus or inflated expenses for lawmakers.
The Rev. Jonathan Edwards, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain on May 29 called on Christians to “give voice to their values by voting” in the elections to the EU parliament.
He noted, “Voting is a right, but it’s also the right thing to do. It is a chance to make our voices heard in the midst of the current political turmoil. Many feel disillusioned with mainstream political parties, and the scandal over … expenses has emphasised the need for our politicians to be held accountable.”
Without referring directly to the BNP he warned, “Extremist parties promoting values and policies that are incompatible with Christian beliefs need to be faced down with a high voter turnout.”
A spokesperson for the BNP said that the Anglican bishops do not represent the views of the public and that their party is the only one to stand up against the “Islamification” of Britain.