Concession speech - religion and society

By Simon Jones
19 Mar 2010

This is an editorial in the April 2010 issue of Third Way, the magazine of Christian comment on culture and society.

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The death of the former Labour leader Michael Foot was a timely reminder that religious voices do not have the monopoly on morality. Foot was an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association. As friends, comrades and political opponents lined up to pay tribute to him, the most frequently used words were ‘decent’ and ‘honourable’.

The reminder is timely because, as politicians come once more in search of the faith vote ahead of the General Election, there is in some quarters an unwillingness to recognise that the Christian churches are no longer the sole representatives of moral authority. When the Secretary of State for Scotland claimed that the Bible gave "the Labour movement the intellectual legitimacy to challenge the old orders" he was accused of representing a party that had conducted a "systematic and unrelenting attack on family values".

In fact, of late the government has given rather too much credence to its religious opponents. Despite British society becoming less religious over the last decade, faith schools, for example, have flourished. And a recent attempt to arrive at consistent instruction on sex and sexual ethics was amended at the last minute to allow those schools to teach their own commandments. This despite recent research suggesting that homophobic bullying in faith schools was compounded by a lack of regard for lesbian and gay issues among their teachers. Similarly, after the Pope declared that the Equality Bill contravened ‘natural law’, Harriet Harman announced that it would not be pursued.

Readers may determine that these concessions do in fact work for the benefit of society. We might even agree. But in being so ready to make them, the government frustrates non-religious voices and drags them yet further from any meaningful dialogue with faith – with us. And whatever the merits of exception, ultimately this may even mean leaving our organisations in the hands of people whose faiths – for this applies to Christian and Muslim alike – are, for them, excuses to behave without decency or honour. A minority, doubtless, and we by no means suggest that most of those who oppose these bills wear those labels. But history suggests that this is the case and sadly some of our fellow believers are still there.

So, do we merely stand aside and accept a tide of secularism washing over us? No. But we must understand, as the apostle Paul did, that we operate as strangers in a strange land. Loud demands for concessions come from those who insist on their own strength. We insist, instead, on our own weakness, and offer it as a point of contact. We meet those who argue with us as equals, rescinding our historical claims to authority. What strength is left, then, is God’s.

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(c) Simon Jones is editor of Third Way magazine - http://www.thirdwaymagazine.co.uk/ This article is reproduced with kind permission, and may be seen in its original context here: http://www.thirdwaymagazine.co.uk/editorials.aspx (subscriber only).

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