Faith and politics controversy ahead of BBC2 documentary
Faithworks, the Christian group that hosted public lectures with Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy in the run-up to the General Election, has hit back at critics who have warned of the dangers of mixing religion and politics.
The comments by Faithworks Founder Rev Steve Chalke MBE come the day before the airing of the groundbreaking BBC2 documentary 'God and the Politicians', which investigates fears that religion has staked too great a claim on the political agenda in the light of the growth of faith schools and the ever-increasing role that faith groups are playing in the provision of public services.
In the documentary two senior clergymen are reported to have also risked reigniting controversy over faith schools after signalling their unwillingness to send Christian children to Muslim schools.
But Chalke's words also come as evidence from the US suggests that religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide.
The Times newspaper reported on Tuesday that a study has concluded that belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.
The study counters the view held by many Evangelical and Liberal Christians that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.
The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: 'Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.
'In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.
'The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.'
Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.
But Rev Steve Chalke of Faithworks, which aims to demonstrate the value of the contribution of churches to 'social capital' said; 'Faith and politics is a good mix for the health of Britain."
'Christians get involved in politics not because they want power, but because they want to serve. They are motivated by their faith to work for the common good. Britain would be a lot worse off without the values, commitment and involvement of people of faith in the political arena - both locally and nationally.'
The issue of what influence religion should exert on party politics is also set to be debated at the Labour Party conference this week, with Chalke addressing a Christian Socialist Movement fringe event around this question on Wednesday.
Rev Chalke, who is featured on the BBC2 programme to be broadcast on Wednesday, believes that, despite the fears of some commentators and secular groups, Britain is in a much better place than the US with regards to the relationship between religion and politics.
Oasis, another organisation which Chalke founded, has also secured several millions of pounds to run a number of controversial City Academies.
'We make a mistake if we confuse what's happening here with what's going on in America,' Chalke says.
'The situation in the UK is not one where religion is aligned with either the left or the right. It is not about any particular denomination being ëin the pocket' of any one political party. There should always be a healthy tension in the relationship between Church and State. I think that here in Britain we have an approach that works - one that recognises the benefits that personal faith brings to political decision-making.'