THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, set off yesterday to denounce racism and ended up urging Christians to vote for the British National Party. It was one of those days.
He had meant to say the opposite. 'Racism is evil,' he explained earlier. 'It leads nowhere other than to sorrow and degradation.' But when he was asked whether it was a sin to vote for the BNP, he replied: 'It is certainly something that I would not do. It is something I would urge all Christians to do.'
'Not to do,' muttered his despairing aide, Dr Andrew Purkis. But Dr Carey cruised on: 'I am not in the business of alotting sins. But voting for the BNP comes pretty close to that category.'
Dr Carey was speaking in the Brick Lane Mosque in the East End of London at the end of a distinctively Anglican exercise: the stealth publicity stunt. He had been invited by the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, to meet victims of racial harassment and see some of the efforts to combat racism.
After conflicting advice from Dr Carey's office on whether the press could come along, two reporters and a photographer followed the Archbishop up seven flights of stairs in a shabby council block and waited outside the home of a family who had experienced racial harassment, while he talked inside. After a while, one of the family came out and invited us in.
A diocesan press officer then threw us out. When it was objected that we had been invited in, he gestured dismissively at the Asian who had done so. 'He doesn't understand what he's doing.'
Dr Carey went next to Christ Church, a centre of resistance to the BNP on the Isle of Dogs, to meet local people. The doors of the church were locked and bolted against the press, so it is difficult to report what happened there.
At the Brick Lane Mosque Dr Carey talked to local Muslim leaders, and prayed silently. 'It is essential in areas like this that the great faith communities model ways of communicating with each other respectfully and building a good society together,' he said afterwards, reading from a prepared statement.
Then, in answer to a question, he developed his view of racial harmony. 'I would like to encourage all Christian families to say, 'Do I know an Asian family? Am I visiting them once a week?' '
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