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Christian Credentials?: The Role of Religion in British National Party Ideology
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Christian Credentials?:
The Role of Religion in British National Party Ideology

The British National Party (BNP), the main contemporary extreme right movement in the United Kingdom, faced acute embarrassment in November 2008, when a detailed membership list of 12,000 of its supporters was leaked onto the internet by some disgruntled former activists.1 It was then rapidly withdrawn after the BNP took legal action. The list provided an invaluable insight for scholars into the increasingly broad nature of support for the party. The document included teachers, police constables, prison officers, soldiers, a radio show host, a Cambridge University academic, a top British motor racing star, and even some church vicars. One of these vicars, the Reverend John Stanton, had blessed the football used in the France-England game at Euro 2004 and now runs an independent church, but he was clearly not ashamed to be exposed as a member of Britain's main racist party.2 Another BNP member, the Reverend Robert West, was similarly unrepentant and commented to the British media: "God has divided the nations for their own good. Every race needs their space."3

Some commentators expressed surprise that church acolytes could be members of the BNP, but seasoned observers of the party were less surprised. Although the BNP has held a rather ambivalent attitude toward Christian belief and religious themes in general during its 27-year existence, some members have regularly claimed to be "true Christians," especially more [End Page 25] recently. In particular, key BNP ideologues have been highly critical of what they allege is the "soft" liberalism of the established Church of England and its supposed naïve position regarding the threat of non-Christian religions, such as Islam, to British cultural identity. Not only have these BNP writers attacked what they claim is the "Islamification" of Britain, but they have tried to present themselves as the only real defenders of the Christian faith, which, according to the BNP's perspective, has been "sold out" and "betrayed" by both the mainstream clergy and the wider British Establishment.

Although the BNP officially still emphasises that both Christians and non-Christians can be party members, and that the party remains neutral concerning questions of religion, God, and personal faith, what has become evident is the extent to which explicit Christian themes have increasingly begun to appear in BNP discourse. The BNP appears to be trying to place itself in a stronger position to appeal to what it regards as the Christian majority in Britain, which it hopes both to politicise and to mobilise. It asserts that it is defending Britain's "Christian culture and heritage," which is now under threat from multiculturalism, "political correctness," and "Marxism." This highly contentious stance has, in turn, engendered an equally critical response from church leaders and other like-minded antiracist and antifascist groups in the United Kingdom.

Aside from some ground-breaking research into the nature of the BNP in recent years, especially on the party's "modernization" strategy, the appropriation of Christian themes by the BNP has so far attracted little academic attention.4 In what follows, an outline of the intersection between the BNP and their Christian beliefs will be provided. In conjunction with this, the article will note the various strategies employed by the BNP to "Christianize" its message for electoral purposes. It will also briefly explore how mainstream Christians, in cooperation with other faith and secular groups, have tried to galvanize communities at both local and national levels in Britain to resist right-wing extremist appropriation of Christian and related spiritual themes.

It should be emphasized at the outset that the following discussion is not analytically comprehensive in approach, and that much more primary research by scholars is required on this aspect of extreme right ideology. Nevertheless, the preliminary findings presented here suggest that the appropriation of the label "Christian" by the BNP echoes similar patterns discernible in the policies of other radical and extreme right movements in Europe and the [End Page 26] USA since the 1980s. As Paul Hainsworth has pointed out in his comparative discussion of the extreme right, central to the right's discourse "is the question of identity...