Bishop of Durham on the BNP

Several press reports from North-East England about this:

Northern Echo Bishop’s warning over threat of BNP

Newcastle Journal Bishop joins fight against nationalists

Sunderland Echo Bishop warns people ‘giving up hope’ by voting BNP

Northumberland Gazette BNP voters disaffected with main parties – Bishop

Here is the full text of the email that Tom Wright sent to his clergy:

13 April 2008
Subject: Local elections and BNP from Bishop Tom

Dear Friends

With local elections coming up, we face again the unwelcome news of the BNP making potential inroads in our region. Splendid work has been done to counter this by several clergy working with local community leaders, for instance in distributing the pamphlet, ‘Hope Not Hate’. I want to urge all of you to get involved in this effort in whatever local sphere you can.

However, we should also be aware that the reason the BNP can even gain a foothold in people’s affections is because many people in our region feel so disaffected after the last thirty years of national politics that they are in danger of giving up hope in our regular main parties. This isn’t anybody’s fault in particular. But when a party like the BNP seems to be gaining ground we should all ask the question, Why is there a vacuum there that the other parties aren’t filling? What frustrations are there that the BNP are exploiting, and what are the wise ways of reacting to, or even meeting, those needs?

It is one thing to point out, as many have already done, the neo-Nazi tendencies of the BNP, and to warn with a shudder against our society even taking a small step in any such direction. It is another to say, How can we drain the swamp so that this kind of ideology won’t breed again?

None of us (in other words) can be complacent. Opposing the BNP isn’t simply a matter of saying ‘the status quo is working fine, so please reject these idiots’. It should be a matter of saying, What does a healthy society look like and how can we make it clear to our whole population that we are working in the best ways towards that goal? Part of the calling of the churches, following Jesus in his work of bringing God’s kingdom, must be to help communities ask that question and to work with them towards finding robust and positive answers.

Warm greetings and good wishes,
Bishop Tom

The Bishop of Durham, Auckland Castle.


  • Merseymike says:

    Hypocritical little man. Given that much of his outlook would coincide with that of the BNP, he ought to keep his mouth shut. What does anyone care what a third rate theologian thinks, in any case?

    In the substantive issue., there have always been extremists on the fringes taking advantage of disillusion – and that is nothing new either. Its how evangelicals recruit their victims!

  • Tim says:

    As a member of the Anglican communion and a BNP activist,I can assure the Bishop that I am not,nor ever have been a “neo-nazi”.I joined the party primarily because it consists of men and women of integrity,determined to uphold the Christian values which have all but disappeared in our once-great land.
    The mainstream parties have shown their true colours by their support for same sex partnerships and their commitment to the politics of political correctness which have not only undermined family values but have made much of this country effectively no-go areas for indigenous British people .
    Contrary to the Bishop’s remarks,I would contend that voting BNP is the moral duty of every British christian who wishes to see a halt to our moral and spiritual decline .However,it would be a sensible move by the church if they were to forbid clergy to make such overtly political remarks unless they intend to resign their posts in the church and stand for political office instead.

  • Pluralist says:

    _The mainstream parties have shown their true colours by their support for same sex partnerships_ (Tim)

    There you go – the company you keep! It rather makes Merseymike’s point for him.

    Obviously I would agree that we want an end to the BNP thinking it has any place in politics, but we do that with economic development and jobs, and education and participation that stop people feeling so alienated and going for easy answers – an economy (a political economy) where everything has value rather than a price.

    I would suggest that ending up voting for the BNP is evidence of moral decline, and of a departure of the spiritual from the material.

  • John Omani says:

    No Tim, I do not think that voting BNP is the duty of every British christian with a sense of morality. The party may have developed a more respectable face in recent years, but its policies still seem to be determined from a white nationalist standpoint. And it is not enough to say that there also exist black and asian nationalist organisations in Britain – all of these are racially divisive and contrary to the gospel message of unity in Christ.

    But you do raise an interesting point over the most disturbing facet of +Durham’s pronouncements. For with this most political of Bishops there is always a subtext when he acts.

    In this case when +Durham asks ‘Why is there a vacuum there that the other parties aren’t filling? What frustrations are there that the BNP are exploiting…’ he is almost certainly thinking about frustrations related to a ‘decline’ in morality, a decline which for him includes advances in rights and status for gay and lesbian couples. We are not a ‘healthy society’ he claims. But as Merseymike perceptively notes, it is this supposed ‘decline’ that conservative evangelicals exploit to win their converts – just listen to a sermon in a Reform church on a Sunday morning!

  • The Northern Echo combox is scary — it seems that Islamophobia has the population in its grip. We can be thankful that the CofE is standing against it.

  • Interesting as an example of Infighting, only.

    ; = )

  • JCF says:

    Got it, Tim: there’s nothing “neo” about you.

    Lord have mercy!

  • Fr Mark says:

    Tom Wright noting other people’s neo-Nazi tendencies – that’s a bit rich, isn’t it?

  • acb says:

    oh come on, people. There is a huge difference between fascism and conservatism. Wright is a conservative by temperament and conviction. He’s nothing like a nazi, and anyone claiming otherwise just looks nasty and silly.

  • Walsingham says:

    Good Lord. +Tom points out the blindingly obvious and asks people to do the right thing in working to oppose the BNP, and the knee-jerk reaction is to tar him as a neo-Nazi.

    I disagree with +Tom on many things, and consider myself to be of a more liberal hue, but the level of hateful, spiteful rhetoric here has reached new lows.

    acb is right. By taking (or actually creating and *then* taking) an opportunity to rip into +Tom on this issue, all you do is make yourself look vindictive and nasty. God forbid we might actually *agree* with him on something!

  • Merseymike says:

    I disagree, acb. I think that right-wing social conservatism is essentially authoritarian fascism. Read Adorno.

  • Graham Ward says:

    He may be conservative theologically, and the implication that the correct response to the BNP would be for the mainstream parties to adopt a more “moralistic” social platform may be wrong, but anyone who thinks Wright a fascist or a Conservative (large C) should read the interview with him in the New Statesman.

    On Margaret Thatcher’s policies: “They were wicked….A lot of people didn’t realise that you could perfectly easily put a Christian wash over the top of the ideologies Thatcher was buying in to, to make it look nice. But in fact they were every bit as atheist a way of constructing the world as those of overt Soviet sympathisers and communists who were out to wreck society.”

    On global debt: “the dirty enormous scandal of glitzy, glossy western capitalism”

    On Tony Blair and Iraq: “doing God in public is not about someone kneeling down and saying their prayers, and God saying, ‘Go and bomb Iraq.'”

    On Green issues: “If it is true that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced. This is not an ‘extra’ to the Church’s mission. It is central.”

    Support for the BNP and their policies of hatred is incompatible with the Gospel – what would become of a church if it could not take a stance against evil for fear of being “political”?

  • poppy tupper says:

    whether you like their policies or not, the major parties don’t actually oppress or attack anyone. they favour one group at the expense of others, but that’s democracy. the bnp actually targets people and, given the chance, would oppress them. tom wright targets and disadvantages gay people. so, draw your own conclusions. in a venn diagram he’d overlap a lot with the bnp.

  • kieran crichton says:

    A simple answer to parties like this:

    Compulsory Voting.

    Australia has had it’s share of crackpot parties like this, but they never manage to secure and keep a solid electoral base. They tend to get a member or two into a state parliament, or the federal senate, and then disappear. Look at Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, for example, or the Democratic Labor Party (in resurgence, but only at state level). In neither case have these parties held a balance-of-power vote; an example of a *morals* party being in this position is Family First, but this (a) may not last long, as the senator was elected by ‘mistake’ via Labor preferences (b) could be the continuation of a trend – in which case Senator Fielding will be a solitary voice.

    I’m with Pluralist here, but I think he’d have a better point if he went with universal compulsory suffrage. The BNP would last exactly 2 elections here in Australia, whether they got any members into a parliament or not. There’s something about the ranting tendency that repels voters.

    Bishops will always talk about politics. It’s a career hazard when you’re a community leader. They’re also participants in the political system, being entitled to vote – that alone gives everyone the *right* and the opportunity to comment on the virtues of various political parties. I wish people would stop being so indignant when bishops do it. Far better to contest their ideas and statements than to try and remove them from the public arena – it just vindicates the likes of the BNP that claim that the *Christian* voice is being suppressed in society.

  • Pat O'Neill says:

    I suspect this is what in American politics has come to be called a “Sistah Souljah” moment. You pick out an extreme example of things on your own end of the political spectrum and denounce it…and then everybody talks about your courage in offending your own.

    [For those out of touch with US politics, it’s named for an incident in the 1992 campaign when Bill Clinton spoke harshly about a relatively obscure rap singer.]

  • Fr Mark says:

    Kieran: more than just “being entitled to vote,” more than half of the diocesan bishops of the C of E are also entitled to vote in the House of Lords, where, unfortunately, they have, as a group, tried to function as a brake on progressive human rights legislation, particularly with regard to gay people. I think the history of church leaders using their eccelsiastical position as a platform to wield influence in the wider society is probably one of the key factors in the decline of traditional institutional Christianity across Europe. Europeans nowadays don’t want to be told how to think by a very socially-unrepresentative group of churchmen.

    It’s time we, as a church, made a radical break with our confusing of Christianity and power structures, and instead began to model a more Christian view of church, which might well involve embracing the radical powerlessness of Jesus’ way of life, and his consequent ability to reach out to and draw in all the unincluded and disenfrachised.

    People who are themselves principally concerned with maintaining their own enfranchisement will never have much to say to those on the margins.

  • Christopher Shell says:

    Bp Tom’s stance is exactly correct: (1) BNP is in many ways, even essentially, suspect and unpleasant; (2) it is true that fringe groups are no more or less intellectually respectable for being fringe. The term ‘fringe’ is of more interest to sociologists than to lovers of truth; (3) it is also a fact that the BNP’s stance on abortion is more humane and compassionate than that of even one of the so-called minstream parties. In all this we can be blinded by dogmatic stereotyping. It is quite possible that the BNP may be (and jolly well is) unacceptable in total but worth listening to on one or two particular points. We should examine these on a case-by-case basis rather than steamrollering them like someone intellectually challenged and unused to the fine toothcomb. Where they have done research on this or that, it would be ironic for supposed intellectuals to behave fundamentalistically towards them by damning them in toto without bothering to go into detail.

  • drdanfee says:

    Nobody wishes to stop bishops or any other believer from having their two cents say in politics, economy, or other dimensions of our common secular and church life.

    But Wright is unwittingly demonstrating the great wisdom of the scriptural insights which advise us to look at the beam in our own eyes before we get too busy hunting for the splinter in other eyes.

    If there are any significant presuppositional framework differences between the bishop’s nasty views of queer folks and the BNP’s, then we might ask, what is that difference?

    In USA we have been talking about authoritarianisms of the right, or left, since the very large effort on the authoritarian personality in the 1950’s, based at a local research university of some reputation.

    One wonders: If we gave the California F-scale to the bishop, and to a centrist member of the BNP, what differences might we see in their scores? Repeat, using as large a population as possible, properly sampled, for an even more informative comparison?

    Brief background,see:

  • acb says:

    (acb is actually me, Andrew Brown, for what it’s worth).

    Apart from anything else, the discussion here is quite as fixated on sex as the only measure of morality as anything on the religious right. Never mind which is the more Christian — ask yourself which is the more moral, to be anguished by the exploitation of the poor, who are very numerous and suffer horribly for their poverty, or to be anguished by the fact that some gay men can’t have the jobs they want in the church?

    I think +Tom is wrong about sex in general and gays in particular. But that’s certainly not the wrongest or most wicked thing a bishop can be. If we compare him to, say, a gay Catholic neoconservative, I’d rather have Tom Wright. And I can certainly tell the difference between either man and a Nazi, though it’s easier in Tom Wright’s case.

  • Robert Ian Williams says:

    It is very sad that everyone is so worried about seeming racist, that people are afraid to raise the immigration isssue.

    There goes Tom sitting in his medieval castle…aren’t there any rooms for asylum seekers at Auckland Castle?

    However it was contraception and abortion that has opened up the western world to mass immigration. Some one has had to fill the shoes of the seven million souls lost. God is not easily mocked.

  • Graham Ward says:

    acb; well said.

  • Pluralist says:

    I think tom Wright is more complex than any label gives him, actually, and I think he and others have become so obsessed about a found science of doing biblical texts that they forget that this involves excluding actual people, or at least cannot see the extent of the product of their activity.

    His complexity is that he is a political operator, and I think we are falling into a trap. He has said something that should be obvious and we should be able to agree with quite easily (except for the few, there are always a few) that the BNP is a nasty outfit that deliberately targets minorities. But by having a go at him over this, he makes the liberal minded seem to display a reverse form of extremism that is open to be picked off. I bet he gets a similar response from GAFCON types equally frustrated with him, that he is engaging in yet more posturing. And so they show themselves up as well.

    It would not surprise me if this announcement had a mixture of motives: the plain one of concern for the BNP, and to let all the nastiness that is in Anglicanism these days (in which I am a participator, like others, and like him) froth up so that its producers and reponders can be picked off.

    His comments about the BNP are easily supportable, the solution he offers needs to be more concrete and material, but he has said it with an eye to the response. He knows what he is doing – he’s bringing out the creatures from behind the trees so that he and others can shoot at them.

    It is the case that the context of his remarks cannot be separated from a very unhealthy Anglicanism.

  • It seems to me beyond doubt that Wright is an outstanding Christian leader, even if his take on Scripture is not to my taste. I do not think he has the schismatic tendencies or anti-gay venom found in others on the conservative side of the Anglican debate. He is a uniter, not a divider.

  • Pete Broadbent says:

    The discussion on this seems singularly ill-informed.

    This is an initiative that takes place every time there is a local election where fascist and/or racist groups are standing. It’s being co-ordinated by the Trades Unions. Local bishops are often involved in supporting and publicising this (I have signed a letter to my local papers as well). This is nothing to do with Tom grandstanding – you will find local papers throughout the country where Christian and other faith leaders are clearly stating that support for, and membership of, the BNP and similar groups is incompatible with Christian faith and adherence to any of the other great world faiths.

    It’s a little too easy, just because you have it in for Tom, to be blinded by hermeneutical suspicion.

  • Pete is correct. Here for example is what the Archbishop of York said last year:

    And the Bishop of Blackburn also acted last year:

  • Merseymike says:

    Yes, Simon, I agree – I think its the incongruity of Wright taking this stance which some of us find amusing.

  • RichardM says:

    To add to the list, this is what +Rowan said while he was my local Bishop (and Archbishop) in 2001:

  • poppy tupper says:

    it’s not just about him grandstanding, but about him being guilty of the same sort of prejudice as the bnp. he is in no moral position to take a stand here. he should keep his mouth shut and delegate this one to someone else in the diocese.

  • Pluralist says:

    There’s the trap still to be jumped into (me too). So who else is speaking similarly this year?

  • Charlotte says:

    Just to note a couple of things:

    1) that my original comment was not about the actual political views of the Bishop of Durham, but the quality of his rhetoric, which I found, and still find, troubling;

    2) that the organicist views of the family and society, the nostalgia for pre-industrial societies, and the strongly anti-Enlightenment or anti-modernist stance that characterized the Bishop of Durham’s rhetoric have historically been associated with a variety of Fascist movements, in Spain, Argentina, and Italy, to name three examples. This is not, in the view of many competent historians, a chance association. Fascism arises from a matrix that includes, among other things, a Romantic view of pre-modern society as bound together in a single corporate body, one in heart as well as mind, and a strongly-marked dislike for rationalistically organized modern societies that emphasize individual rights.

    I might note two other things:

    1) The Roman Catholic Church has been complicit with many movements having fascistic elements.

    2) Fascist movements usually include populist elements and socialist programs: sympathy for the working class, full employment programs, health care, elder care, and so forth. This does tend to confuse Americans, but authoritarian forms of corporatist or state socialism have not been unknown in European settings, and elsewhere.

  • Pete Broadbent says:

    I don’t think that anything that he says about the BNP (as quoted above) can be construed in that way, Charlotte, and I was only commenting on what had been said in that thread.

    I suspect that I might take issue with you in your musings on his language. A quasi-semiotic approach to his means of expression could well still lead to the wrong conclusions about his ideological position.

    Pond differences account for part of your concern – it is quite common for Christians here to speak of usury and interest in the same breath as part of a critique of capitalism – and even more so when Islamic objections to the charging of interest are in compass. Similarly, evangelical Anglicans in the UK are much more scathing about the Enlightenment project than I imagine would be the case in US episcopalian circles.

    You’re also wide of the mark in your critique of his use of eschatological language and OT allusions. On the former, see his book “Surprised by Hope”, which spells out his eschatological thinking (entirely radical Kingdom of God based). On the latter, it is a commonplace in preaching to use the OT analogically without feeling the necessity to spell out or distance oneself from the genocidal material on every occasion.

    Bishops in the UK have a complex role in relation to societal concerns. We see ourselves to be in critical solidarity with the State – obviously to some extent complicit because of our position as representatives of the national church – but also free to mount a critique of where society is going. This is bound to include a distancing of the Christian Church from both secularist modernity and pluralist post modernity. But it is in no sense allied to anything that could remotely be construed as fascism – quite the opposite, in fact, as many would find themselves in the Christian socialist camp.

  • Robert Ian Williams says:

    Non of you address the fact that we need immmigrants because of the collapse in our birth rate and abortion. Few people realise the demographic catastrophe facing the west.

    It was Lambeth 1930 which opened the flood gate to contraception, by changing it from a sin to an acceptable practice.

  • Tom Allen says:

    Interesting input about the Bishops taking stands and good examples of those who have – and their predecessors did before them.

    Equally interesting is key Bishops (in terms of active BNP presence in their Diocese) who have failed to take such a stand – or indeed to offer public support for clergy that have.

    What would be really telling for the Tim’s of this world who have no sense of the BNP’s history or its leaderships contemporary intent, would be for the House of Bishops to issue a common statement. The BNP in its fundamental political philosophy have nothing to do with Christian values.

  • Merseymike says:

    Exactly. And Fascism was hardly unsympathetic to conservative religionism.

  • Malcolm+ says:

    The suggestion that Tom Wright is sympathetic to fascism and that this utterance is somehow either hypocritical or a cynical tactic is simply bizarre and over the top.

    You’ve got Tom Wright confused with some other bishops of that side of the question.

    This is Thinking Anglicans, people, not a mirror image virtueonline or standfirm.

  • Walsingham says:


    With that sort of expansive definition of supporting fascism, then practically anybody who isn’t on the bleeding edge of libertine progressivism is a fascist sympathizer.

    I also hardly notice +Tom being “anti-Enlightenment”. I’m not even too sure just what you mean by that. And +Tom is hardly appealing to populism by asking people to oppose the BNP. Indeed he in a sense is *opposing* rank populism, which is just the sort of thing the BNP peddles.

    If anything I get the impression from several posters that “anybody to my left is a commie, anybody to my right is a fascist”.

  • Ren Aguila says:

    Thank you Malcolm!

    Sometimes, some of the activists here tend to go a little too far. It makes me wonder whether being “on the other side” is more reasonable. I often get that sense reading the more shrill comments on this and other threads.

    I think +Tom Wright has often taken positions contrary to those being advocated by the majority of the commenters and hence, in their view “deserves” to be tarred with the more rabid advocates of those positions, especially on that bear in the room. I think, of course, that this is unfair. Unlike the other rabid ones, he has often tried to present these positions without becoming a neo-puritan.

    I do hope we could accept the possibility that we could be wrong, when the time comes and we know as we are fully known. This challenges us, I think, to end the bitterness and the sniping that sometimes goes on here.

  • Please limit comments on this thread to the BNP and what Tom Wright said about that. We seem to be having enough trouble understanding that without going off on tangents as well.

  • Malcolm+ says:

    What Tom Wright said about the BNP was spot on. We should give him credit for being right on this issue, whatever we may think of his views on other issues.

  • Charlotte says:

    Well, this is a response to Bishop Pete Broadbent, so it may not be posted.

    Actually, Bishop, Episcopalians in the US are very familiar with Evangelicals who make “scathing” comments about the Enlightenment project. A good source for such comments, because it is intelligently and thoughtfully written, is the Covenant website: I’d add that much of the thinking on that website derives from the work of Stanley Hauerwas, who teaches at the divinity school of a well-known US university.

    Without going into all the variants, some much less reputable than the ones I have just referenced, I will say that we in the US have heard a great deal from anti-modernists and anti-rationalists in the past three decades. But this should be no surprise; the intellectual heirs of Joseph de Maistre are now distributed internationally.

    Once again I want to make it clear that I was not and am not asserting anything about the Bishop of Durham’s practical political stance, and I am glad to see him coming out against the BNP.

  • Hugh of Lincoln says:

    Bishop Wright’s reference to “the last thirty years of national politics” should give us a clue. The Winter of Discontent preceded Mrs Thatcher’s brutal monetarism, trade union reform and miners’ strike which shattered the post-war consensus, causing distress in many communities. Ted Heath sulked, while the Gang of Four split the Left and gave birth to a new social democratic movement, later adopted by Blair and Brown. Eventually a liberal consensus was found across the three main parties with a combination of caring capitalism and socially progressive reforms. But the boom-bust policies of easy credit are beginning to turn nasty.

    Reading through the BNP’s policies, you are reminded of that encounter you might have down the pub on a Friday night with some bore who goes on about immigration etc. You smile politely while trying to extract oneself from the conversation. It’s just not worth the effort arguing with someone so set in their ways.

    So I don’t think we should be too worried about the BNP threat. It’s good of the Bishop to shake people out of their apathy and vote.

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