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British Baptists Tackle Controversial Issues in Annual Meeting

The leader of Great Britain’s Baptists joined other religious leaders in urging Christians not to vote for the controversial British National Party in upcoming elections.

David Coffey, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, added his voice to other church leaders warning voters not to fall for candidates of the right-wing party, which some accuse of being racist or even neo-Nazi.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“The politics of the British National Party are not an option to Christians, because they are an affront to the nature of God,” Coffey said at last weekend’s Baptist Assembly in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Cardiff, the annual meeting of both the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Baptist Missionary Society.
 
The BNP, established in 1982, denies it is racist. It describes itself on a Web site as voice of “the silent majority,” opposing immigration, exporting of British jobs and cuts in national defense.
 
Britain’s Catholic bishops, Methodists and other church leaders previously urged their church members to vote against the party.
 
In his remarks to 3,000 Baptists at the Cardiff International Arena, Coffey criticized prejudice against people of other faiths. “It’s a lie that different faith communities cannot live together,” he said, according to a press release.
 
During a public resolutions session, British Baptists called on the government to remove parts of a 2004 Asylum and Immigration Bill that threaten asylum seekers who refuse deportation with removal of their children, the tagging of those seeking asylum and extending powers of the Home Secretary to remove asylum seekers without due process.
 
Another resolution on personal debt urged the banking industry to rein in high-pressure marketing techniques and asked the government to review rates of benefits paid in its social fund. The assembly also welcomed a bill on domestic violence and victims’ rights.
 
One problem facing the British church, one speaker said, is that some people look to it only for pronouncements on moral or ethical issues. “For many people, though, we are irrelevant,” said Joel Edwards, general director of the Evangelical Alliance. “The one thing worse than being persecuted is being ignored.”
 
Friday’s opening session featured installation of the Rev. Peter Manson as president of the Baptist Union and the Rev. Martin Hodson as president of BMS World Mission. The meeting closed Monday.
 
Next year’s assembly will be shortened to one day, to focus attention on the centennial Baptist World Congress, which meets in July 2005 in Birmingham, England.