CARE needs to show that

By Jonathan Bartley
July 15, 2009

No sooner had I posted my article on how evangelicals are betraying their heritage, than evangelical lobby group CARE launched a new report in the clearest attempt yet to square moves by evangelicals to discriminate in public life with their history of social activism. (I should declare an interest - I worked for CARE for 5 years)

The report tries to put CARE on the side of William Wilberforce and the historical abolitionists who successfully did away with the slave trade. Actually it might be more accurate to locate CARE on the side of the many religious figures of Wilberforce’s day, including churches, who believed that their liberty was being infringed by the abolitionists, and who wanted to maintain the trade on the grounds of their own religious beliefs.

The rationale behind the report is their alarm at equalities legislation and how they feel it is making Christian faith ‘private’. The reality is that the equalities legislation is making certain manifestations of Christian faith private – such as treating others less favourably, withholding goods and services from those it doesn’t agree with, and generally perpetuating injustice. Ideas of equality don’t tolerate such behaviour in public life from anyone - religious or otherwise.

It is notable that in its discussion of equalities, and its case that Christians are being forced out of public life, the CARE report fails to mention the huge institutionalised privileges that Christians actually possess. Specifically:

1. That the Government is building even more faith-based schools, and maintains funding for one third of primaries and numerous secondary schools which are faith based

2. That these faith-based schools legally and routinely discriminate in both employment and admissions against those who have no faith

3. That 26 bishops sit in the House of Lords by right and former religious leaders are routinely appointed there because of their religious positions (such as just this week Jonathan Sacks)

4. That approximately one fifth of all MPs in the House of Commons profess a Christian faith

5. That charitable status can be obtained on the basis that a charity “advances religion”

6. That Christian organisations and churches receive vast amounts of taxpayers money to fund their activities, including evangelism.

7. That the Government has just doubled its development budget, specifically for faith-based agencies

8. That public funding goes into chaplaincy services in a wide range of professions from hospitals to prisons

Any claim that religious faith is being ‘privatised’ must surely at least acknowledge the huge institutionalised public privileges that religion has in the UK? And when it does, it rather puts the claims that CARE makes into perspective.

The report is also inaccurate in its reporting of cases of alleged discrimination against Christians. The report lists a number of cases where Christians have allegedly had a raw deal, which they say is a result of equal opportunities. Little, if any, effort seems to have been made to explore the actual circumstances of the cases cited. Press reports have been treated as accurate and true. But this has resulted in claims being made by CARE which are factually inaccurate and misleading.

For example the report states:

“This year Jennie Cain was told that she could face dismissal as a teaching assistant at the school attended by her daughter because she had asked friends to pray about a difficulty following a conversation in which her daughter had shared her faith with another pupil.”

I personally corresponded with the headteacher on a number of occasions. Jennie faced disciplinary action not because of her request about prayer, but because she was employed by the school and distributed confidential information which was a breach of her employment contract.

CARE also fails to mention the role of certain Christian campaign groups in fuelling the cited controversies. These groups have polarised the debates in ways that I have written about here. Nor does it entertain the idea that a better public expression of Christian faith might be to try and mediate in such disputes, rather than add to the misinformation as it is doing in its report.

Christians in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries were valued in the public expression of their faith and had an impact because they stood for justice, but also because the public benefit of what they did was clear for all to see. If CARE were serious about this kind of approach, they could be the ones who offer mediation services where these kinds of disputes have been breaking out. In so doing theu would demonstrate in practical ways how their faith can bring peace and resolution. Instead they are contributing to the conflict.

The report is extremely disappointing, which is a great shame, because in its more ‘caring’ charity work, it does some great stuff.

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