Thinking Anglicans

The CofE and the BNP

The Church Times carries a report by Pat Ashworth BNP puts Jesus on its poster.

There have been several strong responses recently to the BNP, including:

Jonathan Bartley at Ekklesia has been critical of those who sometimes take a different tack, such as the Archbishop of York. See his piece on Ekklesia Responding to the BNP over ‘What Would Jesus Do?’.

…The advert asks: “What would Jesus do?”. Of course the BNP don’t have a clue about the answer, but the answer from John Sentamu’s office, as recorded by the Daily Telegraph seems to be that perhaps Jesus wouldn’t say anything. “A spokesmen for the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu and for the Church of England refused to comment saying the BNP was mounting a ‘publicity stunt’ designed to give the party the ‘oxygen of publicity’” the paper said…

…Silence certainly hasn’t been the response of other churches. The Methodists. Baptists and United Reformed Church all put out a statement condemning the adverts. Indeed, Christian denominations and church groups have been making strident denouncations of the BNP ahead of the impending elections. On the same day as the BNP launched its advert, the major church denominations in West Yorkshire issued a press release announcing resources to combat the threat from the British National Party at the 4 June European elections. In fact there isn’t a church to my knowledge that has failed to condemn the BNP.

So what is really behind the Archbishop of York’s reticence to be quoted (which many in the Church of England might mischievously suggest is a rarity!)

There is a tactic employed by many, to try and freeze the BNP out in the hope that they will be marginalised. This is what the Archbishop’s office was perhaps attempting to do. But such tactics don’t seem to be working as Hazel Blears amongst others has recently suggested.

And there is another dimension to this issue which makes it increasingly hard for the church to engage in the way that it has done previously – and that is that the BNP has put the Archbishop and many others within the Church of England in a rather awkward position. The BNP is now using exactly the same rhetoric about ‘persecution’ and defending ‘Christian Britain’, that John Sentamu and others within the Church have been using…

The Telegraph report on which his criticism rests is here: BNP uses Jesus in advertising campaign.

A forthright response to Ekklesia appeared in the unlikely venue of the Archbishop Cranmer blog, in the comments to The Church of England and the BNP. Arun Arora who is Archbishop Sentamu’s press officer wrote:

…As the spokesperson for the Archbishop of York may I correct you on your assertion that:
“A spokesman for the Archbishop of York said: ‘Jesus wouldn’t say anything’.”
That particular inaccuracy is being propagated by the Director of the Ekklesia think tank who was rather put out that I refused to comment on a story that only came to the media’s attention through his press release.
The BNP themselves did not press release the billboard and in fact have admitted that they have put up “only one or possibly two” such posters.
Unfortunately in their haste to promote their own comment on the issue, Ekklesia effectively effectively acted as the BNP’s PR agency through their naive promotion of the BNP’s campign, which has given the poster the kind of media attention they could otherwise never have hoped (or paid) for.
Ekklesia unfortunately compounded this basic PR blunder by misquoting my response to their story.
In fact the comment I gave to the Press Association was: “this is clearly designed to seek the oxygen of publicity. We refuse to provide it”.
There is clearly a big difference between refusing to engage with a poster campaign (providing publicity) and taking every other opportunity to reiterate that the BNP is an odious and racist organisation against which the CofE stands firm.
Certainly for any organisation, such as Ekklesia, to question the Archbishop of York’s commitment to racism from the safety and security of their own offices is quite absurd when one considers that when he was vicar in South London John Sentamu’s house was firebombed by the National Front.
Whilst we can all share in a common united opposition of the BNP, the cause is not helped by the basic errors of “think tanks” which seem to be keener on self-promotion than working together against fascism.

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Cheryl Va.
15 years ago

It is sad to still see “freezing out” strategies being used by Anglican leaders. You would have thought after all the debacle in the last few years about inappropriate organisational politics that they would have learnt their lesson. Still, it is heartening to see that other denominations are demonstrating an understanding that silence is seen as condonement. Well done for speaking out. As for those who think that silence makes them “innocent”. Contemplate this. God judges not just what we do (and are known to do) but also what we omit (or do but it is not “known”). Sophistry and… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
15 years ago

You’re right Cheryl that “freezing out” doesn’t work. The realizing of that is one of the promising aspects of the Obama presidency.

And paradoxically as it might seem, silence is often the same as condonement without words.

The anti Gay policies prevalent in the Province of the West Indies might be an example of this…

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
15 years ago

It is disappointing that Archbishop Sentamu’s Communications Director has chosen to attack Ekklesia (of which I am an associate, and for which I sometimes write), rather than join in debating the issues. It is odd to accuse Ekklesia of ‘question[ing] the Archbishop of York’s commitment to racism’ when Jonathan Bartley’s clearly states that ‘no one would seriously question the commitment of the Church of England, or the Archbishop of York, to combating racism’, and in general Revd Arora’s remarks seem to miss the point. In what circumstances should Christians avoid challenging far-right parties to avoid drawing attention to their claims,… Read more »

Kelvin Holdsworth
15 years ago

It might be a little easier to take John Sentamu’s views on racism more seriously if he had not begun a recent talk on Englishness by slagging off (presumably “in jest”) the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.

Still, good to hear his press officer speaking out against self promotion.

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