Tuesday, 30 June 2009

"Reverend" Robert West and the Churches

There is something slippery in the way Robert West repeatedly avoids answering reasonable questions about his title, "Reverend"; about how just a few years ago he denied being connected to the BNP; and about the way he cherry-picks biblical text to justify his own and the BNP's anti-Christian view of the world.

Where was he ordained? According to the Norwich Evening News, West has "displayed his ordination certificate on a tv show", which is hardly a satisfactory accounting. There does not seem to be a record of this event,

Robert West is evasive on other matters, too. In 2006 in an interview on Three Counties Radio he denied that he himself was a member of the BNP, but in the same interview he confirmed that the British National Party (BNP) was helping in the establishment of a new political church group in Lincolnshire, the Christian Council of Britain (CCoB).

Now that the "Reverend" Robert West is standing as the BNP candidate for Norwich North in the by-election of July 23, past evasions and untruths are becoming evident.

In March 2006 Robert West was instrumental in founding the Christian Council of Britain (CCoB), which, according to Searchlight, seeks to provide a religious veneer to the BNP’s racial ideology. It emerged in response to the trial of Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, in order to give his statements that Islam was a “vicious, wicked faith” an air of religious authority. According to West, the CCoB was "to represent Christian values and the Christian heritage of the country". The first activism of the CCoB was to picket against the showing of "Jerry Springer, the Opera".

The CCoB website, a work in progress, states: "The CCoB is a patriotic Christian organisation that is not 'politically-correct' " and that the CCob is "an independent, non-political organisation autonomous of any political party in Britain"; however there is no doubt that it is supported by the British National Party.

The Christian Council of Britain has been criticised by a number of mainstream British Christian organisations. For example, the Methodists wrote: that 'Christian belief is incompatible with any political party or philosophy that is based on hatred or treats people as inferior because of their race, beliefs or for any other reason' and argues against the CCoB's theological views on separation of races.

Anthea Cox, Methodist Coordinating Secretary for Public Life and Social justice, said, ‘I am outraged that the BNP and its allies are using Christianity to further their agenda of segregation and division. I think most Christians will be deeply affronted by this and want to speak out against such misguided extremism. We reaffirm our earlier statements that Christian belief is incompatible with any political party or philosophy that is based on hatred or treats people as inferior because of their race, beliefs or for any other reason. We are deeply concerned that some people are now appropriating Christian language and symbols for policies that are the very opposite of Christian values.’

The CCoB has claimed that the Bible justifies its support for the BNP’s repatriation policy. But the Revd Ken Howcroft, Coordinating Secretary for Conference and Communication, said ‘this was a way of interpreting scripture that was used to justify apartheid in South Africa, the banning of mixed-race marriages and the setting up of homelands. The South African Council of Churches condemned this interpretation, and some of the churches that did support this interpretation later formally repented. In Galatians Paul writes ‘In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile,’ and this makes it clear that there is no Christian basis for racial discrimination or separation.’

Recently Rev West and the BNP have used stunts to win attention in Norfolk, for example interrupting a service at St. Faith’s Church.

This is part of a broad attack on the 'institutional' Christian Churches. The Roman Catholic Church, Protestant churches, and, in particular, the Church of England have all been criticised by the "Reverend" West in public scoldings that have increased since the Church of England made a courageous public stand against the BNP. 

The Anglican Bishop of Norwich, according to his chaplain, the Reverend Simon Ward, is well aware of the BNP's candidate for Norwich North. Ward said in a telephone interview with HOPE not hate, Norfolk, that "West's presence in the by-election race has been flagged up" and they are following the BNP's local campaign with concern. 

The Bishop of Norwich will 'respond appropriately' in a press release planned nearer the by-election date. 

The Reverend Simon Wilson of Foulsham as also been following events, and he wrote this to HOPE not hate, Norfolk coordinator Sid Frisby:

In the European Elections, you are probably aware that the BNP leafleted and disrupted services in several churches in King's Lynn under the guise of the "Christian Council of Britain".

I am also trying to explore the legality of him being "Reverend" on the ballot paper.

Of course, if he were a mainstream cleric, he would be barred from standing in the first place.
In May this year, just before the polls opened for county council and European elections, East Anglian bishops of all denominations issued a joint statement (reported by the Eastern Daily Press) urging people to use their vote and remain vigilant.

The bishops' statement said. 

The East of England has a notable history of welcoming people fleeing persecution elsewhere in Europe, sometimes on religious grounds. As Christian leaders in this generation, we believe that hospitality and living together with mutual respect remain the foundation of a civilised society. All human beings are created equal. That is why racism is a sin.

Christ calls on us to love our neighbours as ourselves and in this forthcoming election we believe it is right to be vigilant about any party or individual candidate seeking top use people's fears for their own well-being to stir racial and religious hatred.
As Searchlight notes:

The crude attempt by the BNP to “Christianise” its racial message is particularly ironic given that the BNP website harks back to the halcyon days of pre-Christian paganism (!) calling for the resurrection of “ancient faiths” while extolling the virtues of “ancestral folk traditions”.

As far as the BNP is concerned “Christian” equals “white”, the party apparently being unaware that the vast majority of Christians in this world are black Africans.

At best the BNP has a tenuous grasp of genuine Christian theology, with which its own ideology is clearly incompatible. Indeed as Dr Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney, observed, 

if Jesus were ever to walk this green and pleasant land, the BNP would be committed to his repatriation. Even their great love of St George is a joke: George was either Turkish or Palestinian, and his legend migrated to this country from the Middle East.

The underlying BNP strategy remains clear: to set religion against religion and in doing so to fuel division and hatred. 

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