The British National Party is using a picture of Jesus in its latest advertising campaign, saying that Christian leaders are ‘shunning the word of God’ on issues such as sodomy.

The far-right party has used the image of Christ to suggest it is being persecuted and discriminated against in the lead-up to the European elections.

The poster quotes from John 15:20: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” and asks the question “What would Jesus do?”

In a newsletter to supporters, party leader Nick Griffin said the BNP was “the only party which genuinely supports Britain’s Christian heritage”.

He said: “Jesus was viewed as a revolutionary figure, hated and hounded to death, not by ‘evil men’ but by the corrupt hypocrites who ran the church. Has nothing changed in two thousand years?

“Church leaders actively shun the word of God on issues like sodomy, abortion and social justice. Yet they now feel compelled to compound this hypocrisy by acting as spokespersons for the violent extreme left.”

The party said it was considering whether to release the ad as a nationwide campaign.

Reverend Sharon Ferguson, of Lesbian and Gay Christians, said: “I think its quite ironical that they should use an image of the man who welcomed everyone regardless of who they were, even tax collectors and prostitutes.

“It’s strange that a group who wants to shun and exclude people uses a picture of someone who includes all.”

She also expressed surprise at the party’s choice of quote, saying: “It’s a total contradiction and gives out mixed messages. Christ was persecuted because he included everyone, not because he excluded them.”

Co-director of Ekklesia, Jonathan Bartley said the ad was a “gross misrepresentation” of Jesus and Christianity.

“Jesus was completely opposed to bigotry. He is recorded in the Gospels as challenging those who didn’t welcome foreigners – not as working for their exclusion,” he said.

In April last year, BNP councillor for Barking and Dagenham Richard Barnbrook said: “You can be gay behind closed doors, you can be heterosexual behind closed doors, but you don’t bring it onto the streets, demanding more rights for it.”