Church of England moves to proscribe the BNP
Most will have immense sympathy with an expression of Christian witness which seeks to denounce racism in all its forms, including in the temporal political realm. The Church should be completely intolerant of all those who would foment discord on the basis of ethnicity or skin colour: since the Early Church abolished the Jew-Greek division and declared all to be one in Christ Jesus, there can be no theological rationale 2000 years later for black-brown-white segregation. To be Christian is to be blind to race: all of humanity is equal in the great plan of salvation.
But here we have the Established Church of England intent on enshrining in ecclesiastical law a prohibition on those in Holy Orders from membership of a political party which is not only legally constituted in the United Kingdom, but has won elections to the European Parliament and is deemed to conform to both UK and EU law.
Oh, of course, the party has not been named: the General Synod has simply decreed that allegiance to a party whose policies are ‘incompatible with the teaching of the Church of England in relation to the equality of persons or groups of different races’ would be ‘unbecoming and inappropriate’. So, in theory, all racist or discriminatory political parties are to be proscribed.
But let us be clear: clergy are being prohibited from joining the BNP because the Church is perceived by some to have a problem with racism (too few BME vicars and bishops). Which is fair enough. But the Church is also perceived by a sizeable constituency to have a problem with homosexuality (too few practising gay vicars and bishops). And, moreover, the Church is perceived by an even more sizeable constituency to have a problem with women (none is permitted in the Episcopate).
His Grace has undoubtedly met a few racists in the Church of England, just as he has in the Roman Catholic Church. He has even come across one or two in the Baptist and Methodist churches. He has come across none in the Church of the Latter Day Saints, but that may be because he knows no Mormons.
But, ultimately, it is obseved that everyone’s a little bit racist.
We know that the Synod motion is aimed at one party in particular, for it was born out of a proposal in 2009 by Vasantha Gnanadoss who warned then of the potential for the BNP to grow in influence. “Passing this motion is a push that is seriously necessary,” she told the Synod at that time.
The peculiar thing is that it is a completely hypothetical move, since no member of the Church of England clergy is presently known to be a member of the BNP. But if one were, why would they now disclose it? And, further, it is not at all clear how prohibiting membership of a racist or discriminatory political party could change a racist or discriminatory heart, with which the Lord is far more concerned.
That the BNP has a racist foundation is beyond dispute. That the Church of England is sexist at the Episcopal level is also beyond dispute. That the Church of England is ‘homophobic’ (to use the vernacular) is manifest to everyone who grasps the basic principles of discrimination. Some would say these discriminations are ‘institutional’.
Yet the Church of England has only voted in favour of legislation to prohibit clergy from joining racist or discriminatory political parties like the BNP because that party’s policies are deemed to be inconsistent with Christian values, notwithstanding that there are many thousands who find the Church’s stance on women and gays equally inconsistent with Christian values.
If it be ‘unbecoming’ and ‘inappropriate’ to associate with a political party which is deemed (by some) to be racist or discriminatory, what about the Rev’d Stephen Sizer?
Or does ‘unbecoming’ and ‘inappropriate’ conduct exclude anti-Semitism?
And what of UKIP?
Surely, if there is neither Jew nor Greek, and if there is neither black nor white, a fortiori there is neither British nor French; neither German nor Spanish, for the Church is universal and completely unconcerned with the artificial confines of the nation state. Surely a political party which advocates United Kingdom independence – that is, separateness from all other European nations – is propagating nationalism and discrimination, and so ought also to be proscribed.
It is now for the Bishops to determine which parties or organisations are deemed to be incompatible with Christian values. To them is given power to bind and loose, and they may do so as long as two thirds of them support the motion. Any ban can be lifted by a simple majority vote should the political party repent and change its ways.
One wonders how long it will be before a bunch of Guardian-reading, liberal-leaning bishops determine membership of the Conservative Party to be ‘unbecoming’ or ‘inappropriate’ conduct for clergy, for, surely, that which became known as Thatcherism was (and is) frequently denounced as being ‘incompatible’ with Church teaching on equality. What of the poor? Was not Jesus the first Socialist?
His Grace can hardly wait to see which political parties or organisations are deemed by the Bishops to be incompatible with Christian teaching and so proscribed. For then we will surely see high-profile court cases giving such groups £millions worth of free publicity. His Grace is loath to quote any BNP spokesman (and, like the bishops, they do all tend to be men). But one of their number has challenged the Church of England, insisting: “We are a modern, forward thinking and progressive nationalist party. We are non-discriminatory and we have a constitution to match. It is high time that was put out there. The Church of England has to keep up to date – they are stuck in the 1970s.”
And since the European Convention on Human Rights gives all people (including CofE vicars, who fall within the broad definition of ‘people’) the right to freedom of political belief, the Church cannot win in the courts: clergy cannot be disciplined for lawful political activity.
For His Grace, if the Church of England were to expend just one tenth of its efforts to the propagation of the Gospel that it devotes to issues of gender or sexual equality, it might just reverse its terminal decline. Racist views and discriminatory undertones are going to exist wherever there is diversity and the freedoms of belief, expression and association. This is not to excuse them: it is a simple statement of fact. But the proscribing of the outward manifestation will not transform the inner life of the believer, which is a work of the Holy Spirit.
According to the latest church statistics, only 2.8 per cent its 114 bishops and 1.4 per cent of the 4,443 vicars come from ethnic minorities. No doubt we are now heading for quotas to address this scandalous under-representation.
What would Jesus say?
Well, for the Church of England, God can undoubtedly speak through the Labour Party, the Guardian, the EU, the Rev’d Giles Fraser, and even an ass (Numbers 22:21-38). But He would never choose to speak through a member of the BNP. No, they have replaced the ‘homosexual offenders’ who were once destined for eternal darkness: the Kingdom of Heaven is not for such as those.