Responding to the Labour Party's new consultation with faith communities, launched by the Prime Minister at a reception at Number 10 Downing Street, the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia has said that welfare policy must be based on fairness for all, and that churches should model exemplary practice.
Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, who attended the reception, says that the issue of eliminating discrimination, whether by faith groups or others, is a matter of trust, integrity and fairness.
"Particular churches, faith organisations, businesses, charities and other private providers - whether religious or not - should not be given unaccountable dominance over large chunks of public services paid for by the general taxpayer," he said. "That would be an unhealthy state of affairs for all involved."
"Partnership between the state, voluntary groups and other actors in welfare provision needs to be genuine, transparent and rooted in the overwhelming needs of the vulnerable, a comprehensive equalities agenda, an end to unfair exemptions, and a more careful review of the way the 'commissioning state' really works and what it can and cannot deliver," he added.
Ekklesia has urged churches to be "exemplary" when they are in receipt of public funds, rather than seeking opt-outs or special preferences. "Welfare means ensuring that all people - non-religious and religious - are treated fairly, humanly, without regard for creed, wealth or status, and in a way that acknowledges them as full participants not mere 'clients' or 'recipients' in services and projects."
The think-tank says that church involvement in what is becoming a 'mixed economy' welfare system should not be at the expense of social justice and a more radical, critical role in society.
Barrow commented: "The Christian Gospel is not primarily about patching up victims but ending victimisation. Likewise, the church is not primarily about being a service agency but modelling the kind of personal and social transformation that heralds the practical possibility of a different kind of living - where equality, justice, peace, hospitality and forgiveness are foundational virtues rather than exotic dreams."