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British Baptists Issue Warning on Extremist Politics

British Baptists, Methodists and the United Reformed Church have joined forces to denounce racist and extreme political parties in upcoming local elections in Wales and parts of England.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain is one of three Christian denominations urging voters to vote wisely in May 1 elections for local council elections and for mayor and the Greater London Assembly in London.

The call comes in a briefing put together by the joint public issues team of Baptists, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It says the three groups “have made clear their conviction that the policies of extremist political parties are incompatible with an understanding of God’s love for all people.” The groups “call on Christians to work actively to counter those who stir up hatred, and reject racist and intolerant political parties.”

“Using your vote is crucial to stop far-right parties from being elected,” the briefing says. “In local elections the contests can be very close.”

In the last election in 2004, for example, the British National Party, a far-right party widely associated with promoting racism, came within 0.3 percent of gaining a seat in the London Assembly.

Largely dismissed as an extremist fringe group since its founding in 1982, the BNP has recently sought to soften its image in an effort to appeal to mainstream voters who feel threatened by non-white immigration. Similar groups in France and Austria have also had electoral success.

Though still on the political margins, the BNP is Britain’s fastest-growing party. One recent poll suggested that 7 per cent of the electorate would consider voting for it.

In pockets of Britain the BNP is nearly mainstream. One area where the BNP has had some success is Burnley, a borough in Lancashire, England, where the party’s four councilors is down from a high of eight in 2003.

Andy Williams, minister of Burnley’s Sion Baptist Church, said he had spoken to his congregation about the elections. He welcomed the new call.

“The BNP tends to have support in areas that are predominately white, and its campaigning is on the basis of fear of the unknown,” Williams told The Baptist Times. “Its success in Burnley was quite opportunistic, based partly on boundary changes, but since then a lot of good interfaith work to build relationships has taken place and the political parties have sharpened up their act.”

“We believe that the policies and practices of those who promote racism and religious intolerance are incompatible with biblical teaching and our understanding of the nature of God as revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ,” the Baptist Union of Great Britain faith and unity group said in a statement in April 2007.

That statement noted “with concern the rise of political extremism and the presence of racist parties operating within the political life of this country.” It stated the belief that “policies and practices of those who promote racism and religious intolerance are incompatible with biblical teaching and our understanding of the nature of God as revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.”

The BGUB statement “encourages full voting participation in local, national and European elections, but urges people not to vote for candidates who promote, give assent to, or are associated with racist policies.”

It also called upon British Baptist churches “to practice and promote racial justice and inclusion, and reject any political parties that attempt to stir up racial and religious hatred, and fear of asylum seekers and migrant workers.”

“It’s very easy to criticize politicians from a distance, but as Christians we are called to be fully involved in politics, said Graham Sparkes, head of faith and unity at the BUGB. “We need to be engaged in community life, holding politicians to account for their decisions but also taking our democratic responsibilities seriously.”

The BGUB offers guidelines for churches dealing with extremist political parties.

In 1999 the Baptist Assembly passed a resolution affirming the “Atlanta Covenant,” a call from the Baptist World Alliance to oppose racism and ethnic conflict and to work actively work to establish a united witness for Christ.”

“Rooted in Scripture, the ‘Atlanta Covenant’ resolved to be committed to racial justice as an integral part of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ,” the BGUB guideline statement says. “It recognized a failure to consistently address the issue of racism and the need for repentance from the sin of racism. It affirmed that all humankind is made in the image of God. It called for a covenant based on reconciliation and the promotion of justice through efforts to eradicate racism.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.