With the leaking, last month, of the names, addresses and occupations of the 12,000 members of the British National Party (BNP), media attention, such as the BBC and Guardian, has focussed on the handful of police officers, teachers and soldiers so identified. While membership of the political party is entirely legal, certain occupations are banned from being members of the BNP.
While I deplore the threats and attacks that ensued, I am encouraged by two aspects of the incident.
1. Membership of such parties is still perceived to be an embarrassment to the majority of people in Britain.
2. Given legitimate concerns over evidence of institutional racism and anti-semitism within the Church, I am relieved that so few Christian leaders were listed. Ekklesia claims five were identified.
"Further investigation has shown that one of the "Revs" appears to have gained his title through Universal Ministries, an online service which "will ordain anyone, at no charge, for life." Another had previoulsy said he had joined the BNP by mistake and left the party - although blogs on the internet elsewhere suggest he changed his mind and joined the party again.
It has been previously suggested that the BNP is seeking to gain ground by playing on false fears about race and immigration, and by seeking to exploit the mythology of a white 'Christian Britain'.
The BNP has also attempted to exploit hard-line Christian conservatism by seeking to set up a body claiming to be a 'Christian Council of Britain', by scaremongering about Muslims, and by getting in on anti-Jerry Springer opera protests promoted by the controversial group Christian Voice - which has since distanced itself from them."
According to Haroon Siddique, writing in the Guardian,
"Ben Wilson, a spokesman for the Church of England, which is not a public body under the Race Relations Amendment Act, said it had seen "no evidence" that any serving vicars were on the list, despite media reports.
"The church's General Synod passed a motion in 2004 stating that any political movement that seeks to divide our communities on the basis of ethnicity is an affront to the nature of God revealed in creation and scripture and is a grave danger to harmonious community relationships; consequently voting for and/or supporting a political party that offers racist policies is incompatible with Christian discipleship.
He said: "It would be difficult to take any formal action against a vicar on the basis of their alleged membership of the BNP, as membership of any lawful political party is excluded from the grounds for complaint under the clergy discipline measure."
The best piece of reporting on the relationship between the BNP and the Church has been written by Richard Bartholomew. He identifies three ministers and records the comments of one thus:“I’m furious. I used to be on the mailing list but I have never been a member. I don’t know why my name has gone out on the list and I’m now considering the action I am going to take.”
There may indeed be others who were 'relieved' that they too were not outed. Nevertheless the tally of church leaders associated with the BNP, while just a handful, is, in my opinion, one handful too many.