The British National Party is not to everyone’s taste. They also have a knack of having leaders and spokespeople who are clearly not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Playing fast and loose with history is one thing, but mucking about with the Bible is another thing entirely.

Clearly, nothing is sacred to our rather thick right-wingers: re-writing history (the Holocaust is just for starters) takes a certain hard-faced determination, but for Nick Griffin even to attempt to tell the nativity story is bizarre. He obviously heard it when he was a little boy and hasn’t looked at it since he grew up.

Here it is in all its YouTube glory – draw your own conclusion. But, while you are doing so, ask just how stupid you have to be to confuse so many elements, invent others and have the nerve to pretend that the Jesus who grew up would have anything good to say about the worldview of the BNP.

GriffinI’ve just made the mistake of googling ‘griffin’. According to Wikipedia, it is a legendary creature (or, in another description, a ‘monster’) with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Griffins are normally known for guarding treasure. In antiquity it was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.

Good grief! Never has someone been as mis-named as Nick! But, as the description implies, however, the mythical bird is a complete mess of unjoined-up bits and the subject of fantasiesof greatness. Oh! So, that’s where the similarity is to be found…

Last night’s debate on the BBC’s Question Time was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. Griffin ducked and dived under a storm of vitriol, but the arguments didn’t take us anywhere. We know he lies about quotations and can’t be trusted on any matter. His claim to represent the ‘ordinary man in the street’ is ludicrous, givne his own social background. And his selective view of history is so ridiculous as to be hardly worth challenging – if, that is, it wasn’t the case that some people will want to appropriate the bits of history he cites in order to back up their prejudices.

What was lacking from Question Time – and continues to prove elusive in Britain generally – is an informed, intelligent and measured debate about immigration and population. It appears impossible to achieve without participants being caricatured by their opponents as either ‘stupidly liberal’ or ‘impossibly racist’. This surely feeds into the BNP agenda which is based not on fact and intelligence, but nasty prejudice and ridiculously half-baked claims. But the danger lies not in the BNP spouting vicious nonsense, but in the lack of a genuine debate by the other parties.

Griffin2For example, I have just come across a report in my local freebie newspaper about the decision to close the UK Border Agency’s asylum screening unit in Liverpool – thus leaving Croydon as the only one in the country. Local politicians have gone mad over the sudden decision as this local community will have to cope with every asylum seeker in Britain coming through the town. No extra funding is granted to the Council or schools or medical services to help cope with the numbers involved.

Now, let me say loudly and clearly: every asylum seeker needs to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion. Each one needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness and not be subjected to the treatment that saw many of them escape from their own country. We should be offering a better alternative to people who have often been through experiences that would appal most ordinary Brits. Our local community and services are committed to doing that as well as possible.

But the lack of joined-up-ness in policy-making has consequences not only in terms of community service provision and funding, but also in the psychology of what worried people think is going on (which may bear no relation to the reality). Our politicians are going to have to facilitate a proper, informed, intelligent and rational debate on immigration that exposes the inhumanity of the extremes, allows for a humane expression of compassion and service and enables a genuine appropriation of a commonly owned social policy.

Nick Griffin can now build on his fantasy of self-importance. But his performance last night was more ridiculous than scary.

How about this for weird?

Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP), has declared his happiness at boarding the gravy train to the Europe he despises. He was reported in the Times as follows:

His election and that of his colleague, Andrew Brons, to the European Parliament opens up a huge war chest: they will each have a salary of €91,980 (£80,443) and access to staff budgets of €210,480 and office allowances of €50,424.

Mr Griffin talked about opening a BNP office as his first step but added: “We promised we would give 10 per cent of our wages to local community groups and if we made anything in expenses we would pledge to do the same with that. We will not be putting any money into the BNP but to local community groups to help them celebrate St George’s Day or promote a Christian Christmas.”

I see several problems for him here:

1. ‘If we make anything in expenses…’ implies making personal profit from what should be accountable expenditure. He then commits to giving away ten per cent of what he ‘makes’ – implying that he will retain ninety per cent of what he ‘makes’. Excellent! very honourable.

Stgeorge-dragon2. The money will be given to community groups to help them celebrate St George’s Day. St George was probably a Roman soldier in the guard of the not-very-pleasant Emperor Diocletian. Now, I can see why Griffin would have an affection for Diocletian, but why he wants to celebrate a foreigner – whose entry to Britain he would wish to prevent – simply beats me. And look at the list of other non-Caucasians who ‘own’ St George as their patron saint! We don’t keep very good company, obviously.

3. It gets worse. He will give the money to ‘community groups to help them celebrate St George’s Day or promote a Christian Christmas’. Christmas IS Christian – hence the name. It also celebrates the birth of  a Jewish kid who was visited by semitic astrologers, who (with his parents) became asylum-seekers in Egypt, who welcomed the stranger and was persuaded by the Syro-Phoenecian woman that God was for all people, not just a particular group.

Has Griffin missed the point somewhere?

Baroness ScotlandThe Churches Media Conference is taking place at Swanwick and there is an impressive line-up of speakers and contributors. We began this afternoon with an address on Faith in the Public Space by Baroness Scotland, the first black and first female Attorney General. She was impressive, but left a lot of questions hanging – especially about the supposed neutrality of non-religious government ministers and the need for individual ministers/politicians to have to decide for themselves how comfortable they are ‘doing God’. Why should ministers who hold a religious world view be subject to a dilemma to which holders of other world views are not subject?

But, following a video appearance form Tony Blair, she did give us some good quotes: ‘Public policy that turns its face from faith turns its face from the public’ – noting that faith is not an optional add-on (but runs through a life like ‘Brighton’ through a stick of rock) and is held by the vast majority of the population in one form or another. She further noted what has become abundantly clear today: the BNP took a reduced number of votes but got two MEPs elected because of the ‘stay at home’ policy of thousands of people who normally vote. Recalling Martin Luther king, she observed that for evil to succeed it only required good people to do nothing. (The consensus here seems to be that the church needs to engage seriously with the BNP and not just leave them out and hope they will go away.)

John Lloyd of the Financial Times made a very good contribution to the conference, celebrating the ability of politicians to compromise. Compromise is often thought of as a negative and weak word/concept; but this is misguided. He pointed out that David Cameron has urged young entrpreneurs to join the Conservative Party and stand for election to public office. The problem with this is that the young entrpreneurs don;t want to dilute their ideals once in office. But, politics is the art of compromise – not of fundamental values, of course, but of priorities and praxis. ‘The only ones who don’t ever compromise are Communists and Fascists,’ he said.

(He later made us laugh by interjecting to a statement by another contributor who asked why young people are always said to be in ‘gangs’, but old people are not. Lloyd suggested that old people form not ‘gangs’, but the ‘House of Lords’.)

Mona SiddiquiMona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies at Glasgow University, made a strong case for the media  carrying a moral burden because of the nature of their business: communication. The media, she asserted, affect strongly the way we talk about God and yet regularly succeed in diluting ‘faith’, failing to subject it to the same intellectual rigour as politics and economics or culture.

What is interesting about all this is that over a hundred media professionals and veterans are wrestling with serious matters relating to faith, broadcasting, integrity, creativity and the moral weight their profession imposes upon them. ‘Telling the truth’ is not always straightforward because it isn’t always clear what the truth is (about an event, a person, etc.); but the journalist still has to produce something for public consumption that (a) the public will want to read about and (b) will sell the medium. And that brings with it particular challenges – both professionally and ethically.

And this brings me back to questions raised in an earlier debate on this blog about the moral responsibility of the media in a civil society. Not an easy one.

Following the decision of several Ministers to ann0unce prior to tomorrow’s elections their departure from the Government, The Guardian calls for Gordon Brown’s head. Enough is enough, the Government is drifting and unable to steer the ship through the very choppy political and economic waters we are now sailing.

bottleofpoisonThere is a serious worry that people will simply avoid voting tomorrow because they don’t think it matters, or they can’t be bothered to choose or they think our politics are so discredited that voting has no purpose. Or, worse still, they think it will ‘send a signal’ to our political masters that things must change and respect/authority have been lost. (That’s a phrase you hear a lot in General Synod debates: ‘we must send a signal to…’ – but what on earth does it mean and what response does the speaker anticipate?) This is dangerous and a denial of responsibility.

The people who definitely will get out to vote are those who are on the extremes of political life. They are strongly motivated to exploit the current disarray and plug the gaps with their own ‘filler’. It is the extremes who will profit from the denial or neglect of the ordinary voter.

Alan Wilson has posted the wonderful ‘Back to the Future’ cartoon on his blog – a ‘must see’ for anyone who cares that the future must not be left to the strongly-motivated extremists in our society.

The British Nationalist Party (who, funnily enough, never define what ‘British’ means) has put out a bizarre advert to make us feel sorry for them as a beleagured and unjustly persecuted group. The advert includes a dodgy picture of a rather effete – but very white – Jesus and quotes John 15:20: ‘If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.’ ‘What would Jesus do?, the poster asks and very helpfully supplies the answer: ‘Vote BNP’ in the European Elections on Thursday 4 June. The poster even dares to state that the BNP is ‘persecuted for saying what you think’.

First things first: the Church of England has just stated in unequivocal terms that membership of the BNP is incompatible with Christian faith. This poster is a shameless two-fingers to anyone with either a brain or a conscience.

Secondly, people need to get out and vote positively for what they do want in these elections. To stay at home and not vote leaves the door open to activist parties like the BNP to get in by default.

Thirdly, the Church of England should be proud to have wound the BNP up so effectively.

Fourthly, and remembering the confession of Martin Niemoeller after the disaster of the Nazis in Germany, we might also benefit from reading his friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 1933 poem, the hand-written version of which I saw in Berlin in 2006:

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Translated it reads:

The service begins. The opening hymn has died away. The pastor stands in front of the altar and begins: “Non-Aryans are requested to leave the church!” Nobody moves. “Non-Aryans are requested to leave the church!” Again everything remained still. “Non-Aryans are requested to leave the church!” So Christ gets down from the cross on the altar and leaves the church.