Saturday, November 17, 2007

This, of all things, taken from the National Secular Society website...

Government anxious to “work with faith communities”

Communities Minister Hazel Blears says the Government is not just prepared but anxious to work with “faith communities” – but only if they agree to provide services to others of different views and not use public money for proselytising.

Mrs Blears told a church conference last week that “faith groups” have a “vital role” to play, but said that the Government had been slow to recognise it. She said: “In the past, faith groups have found doors closed: little recognition of their role, little willingness to debate it. And it was a real missed opportunity that we chose not to make more of their enthusiasm and expertise.”

She said that despite Tony Blair’s well-known religious enthusiasm, there were many in the Labour party who were sceptical about what religious groups could offer. “There were concerns, such as whether faith groups could deliver services unconditionally to people who held different views to their own. These were legitimate questions, but they have not gone unanswered, and we now have a more mature understanding of the contribution faith communities can make. It’s never been clearer that faith groups must be part of the response to the problems we face. As government attitude has developed, so has that of faith groups. We have seen faith groups accept and show how they can live up to that: a promise not to use public money to proselytise, a promise to serve those with whom you fundamentally disagree.”

The NSS add a comment that the record faith groups suggests we're incapable of serving other people without being bigoted. It all depends which record you point to. Maybe they should come and look at the Yeovil Night Shelter, the Lords Larder, Urban Warriors work in schools and with young people, the lunch clubs, toddler groups etc. etc. that the churches in Yeovil are supporting.

One point the NSS does have is the suspicion that the Government are trying to back away from responsibility to the disadvantaged, and are trying to recruit faith groups as an unofficial welfare state to take over certain responsibilities. This is full circle: schools, hospitals, welfare provision etc. all started with the churches, and in the voluntary sector. However, it can be a bit of a poisoned chalice: with government money comes government control, and it takes a lot of discernment to work out where church and state agendas happily coincide, and where taking state money would lead us into conflict and compromise.

But lets be positive, it's good to hear this coming from a government minister, and it's a good thing to quote in our dealings with councils, lottery bids, etc.

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