Back Jesus vote BNP?

April 7, 2009

The BNP poster claims that if alive today, Jesus would vote for them. The campaign has brought much publicity. But will it win voters, or trigger resistance from opposing activists?

The BBC reports the story :

In the UK most politicians are markedly reluctant to “do God”. But the British National Party has recruited Jesus Himself in its efforts to get an MEP elected to the European Parliament in June. [Their] election poster bears a passage from John’s gospel and a traditional image of Jesus. “What would Jesus do?” it asks, and then supplies the answer – “vote BNP”.

It’s an appeal to people worried by the growth of Islam, and to traditionalist evangelical Christians anxious about the secularism they feel is eroding their values in society. The party tries to strike a chord with them by claiming that “church leaders actively shun the word of God on issues like sodomy, abortion and social justice”. Christian groups have accused the BNP of using the word “Christian” as a synonym for “white”, and “Islamic” to mean “Asian”, but it’s a claim the party dismisses. The BNP has also been stung by strongly worded instructions to voters from Church leaders telling them not to vote for the party. The UK’s first black archbishop, John Sentamu, said in 2004 that voting for the BNP was “like spitting in the face of God”.

What is the BNP?

The BNP (British Nationalist Party) does not hold any parliamentary seats in Westminster, but has secured a handful of local government seats. Controversies over a more overtly racist past continue, although its current leadership denies this in public. What is clear in these murky political waters is that the BNP attracts voters in areas where racial tensions are high, and is regarded as a group with views that play to anxieties of the disaffected and underprivileged.

Jesus would have voted for us …

Christians from time to time discuss ‘what would Jesus do if he was alive to day …’ over various topics from gay rights, to shopping on Sundays, to women priests. No doubt there will be discussions (and further advice from church leaders) on this one.

It has long been said that the Church of England is the Tory (Conservative ) party at prayer. Recently it was argued in one influential Christian blog that the old saw has political mileage today. By espousing it more wholeheartedly evidence of

such a moral purpose would undoubtedly find resonance among the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities, the Conservative Party would find itself increasingly attracting the votes of ethnic minorities

Leadership questions

I’m not convinced. Suppose that you are involved in the leadership of a political party? What considerations should inform a decision to present your political message with a strong religious connection?

Clearly there is no simple and universal answer. Each leadership campaign calls for judgments drawing on various kinds of evidence. It is situated in the conditions of the time.
It may be backed up by techniques of market research, and short term considerations may be weighed-up against longer term consequences. Emotions may be triggered today which arouse recollections of other emotionally charged memories. I would think carefully whether a campaign might trigger off such past assocations. In that sense, history tends to take hostages to fortune.

Update

Yesterday [May 24th 2009], Archbishops entered the fray with exhortations to their flocks to vote, but not for the BNP. The poster was again used as a hook for the story.

The British National Party has dismissed an appeal by senior Anglican church leaders for voters to boycott the party at next month’s elections.

The archbishops of Canterbury and York are urging people not to let anger over the MPs’ expenses scandal drive them to vote for the party.