On 'doing God'

By Jonathan Bartley
September 20, 2010

There was a fascinating response from former Labour minister Stephen Timms MP at the weekend to a speech made by Baroness Warsi last week. Speaking to Anglican bishops in Oxford, she criticised Labour in Government for undermining “the positive power of faith” and suggested the Coalition government would "do God".

She clearly touched a nerve. Stephen, who is Labour’s Vice Chair for Faith Groups, said in a statement entitled 'We did do God': “Baroness Warsi is simply wrong. Faith groups are natural allies for Labour in working for a fairer and more just world." In a statement he cited:

• It was the moral imagination and energy of the churches — in the Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History campaigns — which supported Labour’s successful renewal of Britain’s international aid commitments;

• Labour supported faith schools and established new ones;

•The church report “Unemployment and the Future of Work” inspired Labour’s welfare to work New Deal, and faith-based organisations contributed to it;

•Labour provided funding for faith-based youth organisations;

•Labour set up the Faiths in Action Fund;

•Labour published 'Face to Face and Side by Side', encouraging joint working with faith communities and government;

•Labour encouraged local Councils to contract with faith-based groups to provide local services;

•Labour’s Churches Update has been published regularly since 2007.”

Included in the notes that came with the statement were also some interesting links:

Stephen Timms' 2009 speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research, “Faith: helping build a politics based on hope”: http://www.stephentimms.org.uk/uploads/f3d107c0-4a1b-d414-61b5-35615837f...

The Labour Party's Churches Update newsletters: http://www.labour.org.uk/faith

Ensuring a Level Playing Field, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government to encourage local councils to contract with faith groups: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/ensuringalevel

Face to Face and Side by Side, published by the Department of Communities and Local Government: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/facetofaceframework

What this does underline, is how some in the churches, and indeed the Pope, are on another planet when they complain about the banishment of religion from public life in the UK.

It is far more accurate to say that religion in relocating. It is finding a new place and position. What is also evident however, is that some groups and individuals (on many sides of the debates) don't always like the new place that religion is occupying. Many for example, hate that it is losing its unfair privileges and consider that to be 'secular' (whilst others would say it is more 'Christian'). And when it doesn't suit their particular political agenda, they often resort to sweeping generalisations about "all religion" when what they are actually referring to is their particular strand of it.

And that strand is often within a denomination. A recent survey revealed for example that many Catholics don't hold to the Church's social teachings. Those examples cited by some as evidence of religion being removed from public life, are for other religious people, precisely examples of religion playing a positive role. Take for example the legal changes for gay and bisexual equality over the last 15 years, which many Christians actively campaigned for.

When anyone makes a claim to be doing (or not doing) God, they really mean that they aren't 'doing God' in the way they think God should 'be done'. (The theological nonsense of someone 'doing God' at all, will have to wait for another time!)

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