Government pledges respect and regard for faith communities

By staff writers
October 23, 2009

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) has welcomed a speech by John Denham, UK Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to the Churches' Inter-Religious Network (IRN), in which he affirmed the role of faith in society.

The IRN is a body that supports a mainstream dialogue between the Christian churches and representatives of other faith communities.

Mr Denham addressed an audience of Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs at Methodist Church House in London on 19 October 2009.

In his speech, the minister dealt with the relationship between government and faith, and how, he claimed, the two had worked together in the past, did so today, and should continue to do so in the future.

He declared: "First and foremost, faith must be respected and its power acknowledged by government."

The Rev Bob Fyffe, CTBI General Secretary, commented on the event: "It was good to hear the Secretary of State, who declared himself to be a secular humanist, saying that secular humanism is not opposed to faith. It was also encouraging to hear a senior government minister stress that the values of Christianity underlie many current British values."

"Some may hear this comment as a rebuke to those secularists who ridicule faith and people who have it," declared Fyffe.

He added: "It was also good to hear the minister say that he did not believe there was a secular conspiracy to marginalise religion and that his government believed Christianity still played a distinct role in national life and that faith groups of various religions had enriched our society."

The CTBI general secretary continued: "It may still be true that the government does not 'do God', but now we know that government at least respects those who do 'do God', and wishes to listen to what they have to say, and work with them in order to build a more just society."

However, the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia says that there is a danger that too cosy a relationship between government and the churches is bad for both, and that 'Christian nation' rhetoric needs to be replaced by a vision of justice and fairness for all.

"Tying the interests of government and institutional religion together in a joint quest for legitimation and preservation reduces both to a functionalist role," commented Simon Barrow, Ekklesia's co-director, who was formerly an assistant General Secretary and global mission secretary at CTBI.

He added: "The political system in Britain is facing a crisis which can only be addressed by democratic renewal, not by seeking to prop up or be propped up by particular interest groups. Likewise, historic Christian denominations need to move away from the 'Christendom mentality' of craving legitimation from those in power in order to rediscover the subversive core of their own message on nonviolence, restorative justice, welcome for the stranger, an economy of sharing and much more.

"A more constructively critical relationship with the status quo and solidarity with those at the margins of society is also a better basis for developing inter-faith relations with moral and theological integrity," said Barrow.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.