Methodist Church warns against giving extremism a platform

The Methodist Church is warning its members to be aware of thethreats posed by political extremism ahead of the expected generalelection in May. In particular, the Church is stressing its adviceto congregations that they do not have to invite the BNP or otherextremist parties if they host an election hustings on churchpremises.

"Hustings are an excellent way for churches to play asignificant role in elections," says Anthea Cox, Co-ordinatingSecretary for Public Life and Social Justice. "But people worrythat they have to give a platform to all the candidates in theirconstituency. In fact, the law only obliges them to avoid biastowards any one party. This means that they can, for example,invite just the mainstream parties to speak and answerquestions.  Some churches have been creative in the past whenfaced with large numbers of candidates employing such techniques assending out a questionnaire to candidates and then distributing thereplies."

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 racistparties try to exploit, and provides suggested questions thatvoters can ask candidates. It will be fully updated once themanifestos of the political parties are available.

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

Although churches are not obliged to invite all candidates to ahustings, the Methodist Church site also has advice for those whochoose to do so. "A willingness to be active in politicalengagement will always mean making difficult decisions about howmuch attention you give a group that is considered to be counter toyour understanding of the gospel," says Anthea Cox. "We willsupport churches in what they do that they feel is appropriate totheir local situation to enable people to engage with politicalissues and make an informed vote when the election comes."