CLERGY in Lancashire have been urged to preach against the British National Party in the run-up to next week's local elections.

Their bishop has written to all parishes asking ministers to underline Christian opposition to racist politics.

In his letter, the Rt Rev Nicholas Reade draws attention to the Church of England's statement calling for a Christian boycott of any political party "that offers racist policies."

Bishop Reade's Blackburn diocese takes over 200 parishes across most of Lancashire.

Today the BNP hit back and said he should not be getting involved in party politics, but a mosque leader praised the move.

The statement to which the Bishop's letter refers was passed unanimously by the Church of England's parliament', the General Synod, in February 2004.

It was proposed by the Director of Mission in the Blackburn Diocese, the Rev Simon Bessant, and was passed in response to "the recent success of the British National Party in local elections in parts of Lancashire."

The Bishop draws Anglicans' attention to the local elections on May 4 and calls for prayer "for those who serve us in local government."

He said: "It is pleasing that there is a growing willingness among local authorities to work in partnership with faith communities.

"Unfortunately a small minority of the candidates seeking election are doing so on the basis of politics that seek to divide our communities on racial and religious lines. As Christians we should want no part in this."

The Bishop said today: "We do not actually get involved in party politics and tell people who to vote for but we do engage in affairs of life and religion.

"Racism goes against God's will and to support extremists groups can be very dangerous."

David Jones, BNP spokesman for the North West, said: "I tend to regard the pulpit as a sacred position of trust which should not be misued for political reasons."

He denied the party was racist, and said many of the BNP's core voters were from the Christian tradition, but that the party did have a Jewish councillor in the South.

"I doubt this will dent our chances," he added.

Salim Mulla, secretary of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said: "Publicly we haven't said anything about the political situation but we have had private discussions in the mosques urging people not to support parties such as the BNP and to support the main political parties. We support the way the Church of England have gone about this."

The Synod statement states that any political movement that seeks to divide communities along racial grounds "is an affront to the nature of God". Supporting parties "that offer racist policies is incompatible with Christian discipleship," the Synod agreed.

The statement further called on "all Christians in England to nurture a loathing of the sin of racism and to model the teaching of Christ in loving all our neighbours."

The Bishop's letter also commends election prayers from the Methodist Church.

These include the plea "that racism and prejudice are challenged."