UK churches fight Islamophobia, racism
CAIRO – Defying rightists speaking in the Christian voice against Islam, a major British church has set up a new project to fight racism and anti-Muslim sentiments in Britain.
“The root of the project is the recent relative success of the BNP [British National Party] and the English Defence League,” the Rev Vernon Marsh, chairman of the Sheffield Methodist District, told The Times on Saturday, February 27.
The BNP, a far-right and whites-only political party, is notorious for attacks against immigrants and British Muslims, estimated at nearly two millions.
The EDL is also playing anti-Muslim rhetoric to draw support in Britain, leaving Muslims at the focus of unprovoked attacks by rightists.
“There is a high percentage of the Muslim population in our part of the world, and because the BNP is specifically targeting Islam they try and take the right of speaking as a Christian voice against Islam,” said Marsh.
“But as Christians we live in a multi-cultural, multi-faith part of the world and we enjoy good relationships with other faiths and want to build on these relationships and work together against those who won’t do that.”
The project, set up by the church in partnership with the Methodist district of Sheffield, aims to challenge racism and bring together groups that don’t ordinarily mix.
“A lot of the work to be done is in communications, to try over time to get good stories into the media,” he said.
“We also want to create faith spaces where people can talk about the things that attract them to parties like these.”
He said the project also aims to delve into the root causes pushing people to the far-right parties.
“We know it is affected by what is happening economically and by messages in the media. But its no good berating people without talking to them,” he said.
The church project also eyes support of British Muslims to stand up against rightists.
“This project will need selling to the Muslim community to get them on board, and I hope I can do that,” said Abdool Gooljar, president of the Sheffield branch of the Islamic Society of Britain.
“I hope it will be successful, especially in the wake of successes by the far Right in elections.”
The BNP won its first county council seats and European Parliament seats in 2009, winning one council seat in both Lancashire and Leicestershire, and one European Parliament seat each in Yorkshire and the Humber and North West England.
“People are worried if they put themselves forward that they might be targeted in some way,” said Gooljar, who is on the steering group that will run the project.
“There is real lack of trust here now, everyone feels under the microscope.”
The church project has caused unease among some conservative Christians.
“The biblical doctrine of the Church of England, as expressed in Canon A5, is crystal-clear as to the responsibility of frontline clergy,” said Julian Mann, the vicar of the parish church of the Ascension in Oughtibridge, in the Sheffield Diocese.
“We are called to proclaim faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his death for sins as the only way men and women can be saved, whatever their religious, ethnic or social background. If we are misrepresented as extremist for doing what it says on the tin, then that is part of the cost of authentic Christian discipleship.
“We must not allow ourselves to be bounced off the ball by political correctness,” he said.
But the criticism is dismissed by the Rev Marsh, the chairman of the Sheffield Methodist District.
“You will get some people who say you should not be telling us how to vote or anything like that,” he said.
“But we’ve not had any criticism of it in our Methodist district, which covers a wide area.”
Interfaith dialogue has been going on for centuries, and it changes nothing. Will these Churches wake up before it is too late? I hope so.