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Straining a Gnat, Swallowing a Camel By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, July 14, 2009


The British Methodist Church has officially banned its members from joining the far-right and sometimes racist British National Party (BNP).  Last year, the Church of England banned its clergy from joining the BNP.

BNP craziness deserves condemnation.  But should these churches focus on the BNP, whose appeal is fortunately almost microscopic, while remaining silent about far more potent threats to Britain, such as radical Islam?  The BNP's rhetoric is undeniably nasty.  But growing radical Islam in Britain, which has not confined itself to rhetoric, has a far more powerful demographic future than the BNP's limited pool of grumpy pensioners. Indeed, the anti-Semitism, to which the BNP has been prone, also lamentably creeps into mainstream Christian opinion in Britain.

"We must be clear that racism is a denial of the gospel," explained the anti-BNP motion's presenter at the British Methodist Church's recent Annual Conference. "An openness to all people, regardless of nationality, is at the heart of Methodist identity."

The approved action prohibits church members from belonging to the BNP or any other "racist" party.

"This does not mean that people will be excluded from attending church - God welcomes all, saints and sinners alike," it was explained.  "But it does mean that members of racist political parties will not be able to become full members of the Church."

The resolution noted "deep dismay" over recent "electoral success of parties with nationalistic ideologies," such as the BNP, and warned of an impending general election by June 2010.

In 2008, the BNP won 56 seats out of 22,000 city councilors.  In June 2009, the BNP won two out of 78 British seats in the European Parliament, gaining 6 percent of the vote in Britain.

Early last year, the Church of England's General Synod officially banned its clergy from belonging to the BNP.  The BNP's alleged membership list of 12,000 names had recently appeared on the internet. And one "reverend" listed may have been a retired Anglican pastor.  "We have passed motions condemning racism in general in the past," intoned Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.  "I think we have to name names, we have to talk about particular political organizations and not just racism in general."

Not many, if any, Anglican clergy were ever likely to be drawn to the BNP, but the Church of England's new policy was a chance to showcase its disapproval.  As for the Methodist action, its timing was ironic.  Currently liberals in the U.S.-based United Methodist Church are advocating a new church policy that would virtually mandate automatic and immediate membership for all applicants.  Their aim primarily is to guarantee church membership for active homosexuals.  But conservative opponents warned that Klansmen, wife beaters, and child pornographers, in theoretical extremes, could also benefit from the proposed open door stance.  Evidently liberal British Methodists failed to synchronize strategies with liberal U.S. Methodists.

Despite all the warnings, the BNP is not going to gain a wide following in today's Britain, any more than Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists did in pre-World War II Britain.  Some BNP officials used to spout anti-Semitism and Holocaust skepticism.  In recent years, the BNP has focused mostly on immigration and the growth of Islam in Britain.  But some in the BNP might still sympathize with another resolution passed by the Methodist Annual Conference, creating an "Israel/Palestine Working Group," to reiterate British Methodist opposition to the "deteriorating conditions of occupation under which Palestinians are forced to live," by Israel.  Citing the "Gaza War and Israeli incursions," the British Methodists will prepare a more comprehensive anti-Israel manifesto for their next jamboree in 2010.

Like the Methodists, the Church of England has had its own tangled attitude towards the Jewish nation.  In 2006, the church voted to divest from Caterpillar stock to protest against Israeli bulldozers that supposedly demolish the homes of innocent Palestinians. Jews and Christians, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, loudly protested, and the church quickly backtracked.  But earlier this year, the church quietly sold off its over $3 million dollars worth of Caterpillar stock, claiming its reasons were financial and not political.  Not recognizing the difference, the Palestine Solidarity Committee praised the church all the same.

While holding Israel's Jews to a high standard, the Church of England, especially its current Archbishop of Canterbury, has been more accommodating towards international and domestic Islam.  When speaking to Muslim audiences, Archbishop Rowan Williams can cite religious liberty and obliquely criticize radical Islam, but never with the robust energy with which he condemns the BNP.

In contrast, Church of England Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, himself ethnically Pakistani, has boldly critiqued encroaching radical Islam, even among British Muslims.  Last year, he specifically warned of rising Islamic "no-go" zones in some British cities, where non-Muslims fear to tread.  When some Muslims demanded his resignation, most of the Church of England was loudly silent. Nazir-Ali is retiring this year, ahead of schedule, so as to minister to Christian minorities living among Muslims, including Muslim converts to Christianity in Britain.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Rowan Williams ignited his own controversy last year by suggesting possibly incorporating Islamic law into British jurisprudence, specifically relating to marriage, finance and conflict mediation.  Nazir-Ali, and many others outside the church, quickly rejected Sharia in Britain, as a threat not only to non-Muslims but also to moderate Muslims who appreciate the protections of British law.

In contrast to the growth of Islam, including radical Islam, within Britain, the extremist BNP has almost no chance of ever gaining significant political influence.  Its small support base of surly oldsters and the occasional skinhead may enjoy angry rhetoric while still mostly toothless politically.  But swatting at the tiny BNP, with all of British society in agreement, is easier for the Methodists and Church of England than acknowledging the far more potent and culturally difficult threat of radical Islam.

Besides swatting at the BNP, and with evidently plenty of time on their hands, the British Methodists at their recent Annual Conference also "repented" of their carbon sins and promised to reduce their church's emissions by 80 percent in 2050.  Since the church's membership has shrunk by 10 percent just in the last four years, that should be easy.  If such trends continue, there will be infinitely fewer, if any, Methodists left in Britain by 2050. 

Maybe their empty churches will prove useful as mosques.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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