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Thursday, 10 February 2011

Church edges nearer to ban on clergy joining right-wing BNP (UK)

A ban on clergy joining the British National Party has moved a step closer after receiving the support of the Church of England despite warnings that the move could create “martyrs” to free speech.

Calls for members of the Church to be barred from joining the right-wing political party have escalated during the last two years, and the General Synod yesterday gave a clear indication that the proposals will become a reality.

Members of the General Synod, the Church’s national assembly, voted to press ahead with an amendment to discipline procedures making it “unbecoming” or “inappropriate” conduct for clergy to be members of a political party with policies and activities declared “incompatible” with Church teaching on race equality.

Under the proposals, Church of England bishops would make a declaration on parties or organisations deemed incompatible with Christian teaching.

The move came as the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, claimed the economic crisis gripping the nation was eroding faith in the Church. He also called on the Christian community to help provide support to the most vulnerable members of society as the welfare state is under threat from the Government’s cuts.

Giving his presidential address to the General Synod, Dr Sentamu stressed that there were “worryingly” high levels of unemployment and a gulf between “those who have and those who don’t” and are struggling to make ends meet. He said there were deep cuts in public expenditure and rising levels of student and trade union unrest.

Dr Sentamu said: “We live in fractious and uncertain times, in which the role of the national church, like other elements in the social fabric, is constantly questioned and often attacked.”

He added: “For me, and I’m sure for many others, a major concern is the extent to which the social compact which the welfare state represented is now under threat.

“There is an urgent need for the Church once more to rise to the challenge and to lead reflection on how the social compact can be re-fashioned in ways that make sense in the light of today’s serious social and economic realities.”

The Archbishop also warned the General Synod that in a world focused on power, success and celebrity, the “entirely counter- cultural” Christian vision would not be universally welcomed, and said: “Those who adopt this vision as their own are not promised a life of ease but of criticism, even persecution.”

He added: “As we try to re-articulate in today’s circumstances how the moral order should be reflected in the compact underlying our society, we cannot expect to be universally welcomed or applauded.

“But to do these things is, quite simply, our God-given duty and our particular calling. For we must reconnect and refresh the wellsprings of solidarity in England.”

Metropolitan Police civilian worker Vasantha Gnanadoss, a General Synod member who first won backing for the BNP ban two years ago, welcomed the amendment and a new statement on race equality.

This put the Church’s mission to “resist racism” on a firm footing, she told the Synod.

“It is very important when the English Defence League and others are posing a fresh threat to the well-being of our diverse society. I hope that this statement will be used widely,” she added.

Dr Philip Giddings, a General Synod member from Reading, said he “deplored” racism, but warned that such groups could “re-form” to get round the ban.

“Even worse, is the ability of these kinds of proceedings to create martyrs who do more damage to the cause which we are seeking to fight, because we appear to be invading their right to free speech, a very important human right which is now well entrenched in British and European law,” he added.

The BNP’s spokesman on Christian affairs, Robert West, who said he was a minister in an independent church, predicted that the ban would be found to be illegal. He said: “It is not for the bishops to interfere with what is a fundamental right – that is the freedom of political association and freedom of politics.”

Yorkshire Post