25 February 2005

Methodist Church warns against giving extremism a platform

The Methodist Church is warning its members to be aware of the threats posed by political extremism ahead of the expected general election in May. In particular, the Church is stressing its advice to congregations that they do not have to invite the BNP or other extremist parties if they host an election hustings on church premises.

"Hustings are an excellent way for churches to play a significant role in elections," says Anthea Cox, Co-ordinating Secretary for Public Life and Social Justice. "But people worry that they have to give a platform to all the candidates in their constituency. In fact, the law only obliges them to avoid bias towards any one party. This means that they can, for example, invite just the mainstream parties to speak and answer questions.  Some churches have been creative in the past when faced with large numbers of candidates employing such techniques as sending out a questionnaire to candidates and then distributing the replies."

The Methodist Church is updating the successful website it produced for the 2004 local and European elections. The site gives details of the main issues that extremist or racist parties try to exploit, and provides suggested questions that voters can ask candidates. It will be fully updated once the manifestos of the political parties are available.

"As Christians we have to do all we can to counter hatred or prejudice of any kind," says Anthea Cox. "There is no place for racism or political extremism in any of our elected bodies. We encourage people to become involved in the election process, through hustings or by asking hard questions of the candidates. The good news is that they can do this without also giving a platform to extremism, racism or hatred."

Although churches are not obliged to invite all candidates to a hustings, the Methodist Church site also has advice for those who choose to do so. "A willingness to be active in political engagement will always mean making difficult decisions about how much attention you give a group that is considered to be counter to your understanding of the gospel," says Anthea Cox. "We will support churches in what they do that they feel is appropriate to their local situation to enable people to engage with political issues and make an informed vote when the election comes."

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