Martin Wainwright | Monday, 26 April 2004 | Click here for original article
Some of the most senior church leaders in the North will issue a joint declaration against the British National party this week, calling on voters to reject the rightwing group at the coming local council and European elections.
The West Yorkshire hierarchies of every mainstream Christian denomination have agreed an uncompromising attack on "divisive" politics which deny the central precepts of church teaching and faith. The group, including the region's bishops from the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, also calls on people to exercise their votes rather than risk BNP candidates benefiting from low turnout and apathy.
The statement will be presented on Wednesday by the Quaker chairwoman of the West Yorkshire ecumenical council Eva Pinthus, a 79-year-old who fled from Nazi Germany on a kindertransport train for Jewish child refugees.
The statement says: "The church leaders of West Yorkshire are deeply concerned that the British National party is currently active in the area and proposing to field candidates for seats in the local and European elections.
"As Christians, we deplore all attempts to divide our society on race and asylum issues.
"We seek to follow the example of Christ who calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves.We resist and challenge the messages from the British National party against members of some faith communities and assert that all human beings are created equally in the image of God.
"We welcome and celebrate the contribution and example given by all people of faith to this multicultural area. We urge all Christian people to exercise their right to vote and to vote only for candidates whose policies reflect a spirit of inclusive welcome."
Stephanie Rybak, executive secretary of the council, said: "If people of goodwill do not vote, there is a real danger that candidates with extremist views can be elected by a minority. If we do not want to be represented on the local council or in the European Parliament by a BNP candidate, then we must vote. That is the message being put across by this statement, which has the support of all the churches of West Yorkshire."
The Methodist church nationally has meanwhile set up a website - go to methodistchurch.org.uk and follow the "countering political extremism" link- for use by any church group concerned about the rise of the BNP.
Anthea Cox, the church's secretary for public life and social justice, said: "Local churches are placed at the heart of the community and people look to us for leadership.
"It is important that we underpin our commitment to social justice with theology and prayer, and there are resources to enable this included in the website."