Faithworks urges measures to reduce fear of faith
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 said that Britain needs to address widespread ëfear of faith'.
According to Faithworks, who hosted a press briefing at the Houses of Parliament on Monday, there is an urgent need to address some of the 'false assumptions' and 'widespread misunderstandings' about the nature of individual faith and the reason faith groups get involved in public life.
'Whether it's faith schools or the mix of religion and politics, too many people believe that a faith-based approach means unfair discrimination and further community division,' says Faithworks Founder Steve Chalke. 'But the reality is often the opposite. When people of faith get stuck in, the benefits tend to be greater community cohesion.'
Radical Christians however are amongst those who have suggested that a degree of fear is justified. They have pointed out that churches often operate discriminatory policies over their admissions policies to church schools. A quarter of primary schools are faith based, and receive most of their financial support from public funds. However many church schools give first priority in admissions to parents of the children who attend churches attached to the schools. Many also operate discriminatory policies in employment.
They also point out that the Anglican church enjoys unfair privileges in the political arena where 26 bishops sit in the House of Lords.
The Christian think-tank Ekklesia recently challenged churches to acknowledge their injustices and set aside their discriminatory policies.
In a statement following a BBC2 documentary which looked at Christian approaches to politics, the think-tank suggested that; "an indispensable requirement...is the active disavowal of dominance, privilege, manipulation and coercion - those malignant features of much historic religion which (understandably) made so many people suspicious of its aims and motives."
The Faithworks press briefing was hosted by Minister for Pensions, Stephen Timms MP, and chaired by the Bishop of Leicester, Rt Revd Tim Stevens.
At the breifing Faithworks highlighted examples where fear and confusion about faith has seen faith-based community projects treated with suspicion by local authorities, despite a proven track record of success.
The briefing comes in the week the House of Lords report on the Equality Bill, which aims to create a single Commission for Equality and Human Rights (ECHR), to include disability, race, gender and - for the first time- religion and belief.
Faithworks believes that the Bill presents the Government with the ideal opportunity to tackle some of these issues.
'We need to move beyond fearful, knee-jerk reactions to faith and develop an understanding of what it means to be motivated by faith and how active faith can actually benefit society,' says Faithworks Director Joy Madeiros. 'We have come along way to understand issues of identity, such as race and gender. It is time we did the same for faith.'
As part of the briefing, Faithworks outlined a 6-point plan for developing a greater understanding of faith in society. These proposals included the development of ëfaith awareness' programmes, which would help Government, statutory agencies and voluntary groups understand what it means for individuals and groups to operate from a faith motivation, rather than just a religious affiliation.