Efforts by Britain First and other far-right groups to divide the community have only served to do the opposite, according to an interfaith worker.
Christian leaders met with Britain First chairman Paul Golding and deputy Jayda Fransen at St Mary’s Church on Wednesday afternoon, in a bid to convince the group to drop its plans to demonstrate through Luton on Armed Forces Day (June 27).
Following the meeting the pair made an unannounced visit to Bury Park, where they claim they suffered ‘abuse and violence’ from men on the streets.
Footage of the driveby shows Paul Golding shouting “This is our country, why don’t you go back to your own country?” to one man and “Go back to the desert” to another. Golding and Fransen are also seen holding Christian crosses and a banner which reads “Britain First No More Mosques” outside Bury Park Jamie Masjid.
One of the leaders who met the pair at St Mary’s Church, interfaith worker Peter Adams, told the Luton News that the “provocative” footage and divisive rhetoric from Britain First is only uniting communities in opposition against the far-right group.
He said: “Every time this happens it unleashes more corrosive anger and it gnaws away at good community relations. However over the last six years, since EDL began, our engagement with local mosques has increased and it continues to increase each time we are called to respond to this kind of thing.
“We understand each other and we are unified in opposition to hatred.
“We are also increasingly understanding our differences.”
Britain First’s meeting with Mr Adams, St Mary’s vicar Mike Jones and pastor Lloyd Denny, of the Restoration Revival Fellowship Church in Bury Park, came after the far-right group branded them “phoney Christians” on Twitter.
In a joint statement the church leaders said that they were “deeply disappointed and saddened” at footage which shows Golding and Fransen in Bury Park, “especially after we had told them they would be welcome to visit and talk with Muslim leaders there and elsewhere in the town”.
The Britain First chairman and other members have been previously filmed storming into Luton Central Mosque and Bury Park Mosque to hand out leaflets and bibles.
Mr Adams added: “What they did was provocative, it ramps up opposition to them and the cycle goes round again.
“We have done our best to reach out to them and we continue to do so.
“We had different views but the majority of the time the discussions were even handed and polite.
“We heard their basis for what they are doing and also their testimony as Christians, it is not for us to judge the credibility of that.”
Leaders from the Sunni Council of Mosques and the Luton Council of Mosques praised Christian leaders for their work.
In a statement they said: “We are deeply saddened that Britain First has once again targeted a peaceful local mosque in Luton in order to promote their demonstration and a blatant attempt to create hate and division amongst our communities.
“We are grateful to Churches Together in Luton who have initiated some dialogue.
“Despite the deliberately provocative nature of Britain First’s actions in Luton, and in the spirit of our collective faiths and humanity, we would be more than willing to join in this open conversation to address any concerns and grievances.”
Britain First has said that its march later this month will bring between 500 and a thousand protesters to the streets of Luton.
Estimates suggest that 100-150 supporters attended the group’s last demonstration in Dudley, West Midlands, last month