Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Moral, But No Compass: Reflections

I've posted some thoughts on the recent report 'Moral, But No Compass', on the role of the Church of England in delivering state welfare services, over at the Wardman Wire. For the full article, go there, but here's a bit of it:

A First Reaction
My initial response to the first news headlines on Moral but No Compass was ‘oh no, my church is whining at the government‘, but the report is actually very good, and deserves to be read and mulled over by both Church and State.

Welfare Delivery by the Church?
The reason for the report is the increasing encouragement from central government for the Church to be involved in welfare delivery. In seeking to understand the policy environment, the Von Hugel Foundation discovered that policymakers had no information on the Church of England, and a very limited understanding (and lumping together) of ‘faith groups.’ Alan Wilson, Ruth Gledhill, and Thinking Anglicans (also here) have already done a good job of responding to the main points and summarising comment from elsewhere.

a) Does Government understand the Church? Does it want a Glove Puppet?
The report speaks of national and local government failing to understand what motivates the Church. I remember a Q&A session with the Director of Education in one northern local authority: when asked how the Church could partner with them, his answer was effectively ‘you can promote the council’s education policy‘, and he couldn’t think of anything else. There was no recognition of the Church’s centuries of experience in education, its work with children and families, and the contribution it was already making in local schools.

Speaking to a councillor at the same authority one day, I realised a couple of minutes into the chat that it wasn’t really a conversation, he was simply asking loaded questions to get a ‘vicar supports council policy’ answer out of me. This was all in a Labour stronghold, and the principle attitudes towards the church seemed to be mistrust or co-option, rather than partnership and engagement. It must be said that here in Yeovil, a LibDem council, attitudes are more positive, though the labyrinth of agencies, partnerships, funding streams etc. means you have have a certain amount of time and energy to find your way through it. Equally, there are likely to be examples of positive and negartive examples in local authorities across the country.

It’s interesting that a recent government consultation on ‘violent extremism’ floats the idea that Further Education chaplaincies can play a role in tackling extremism on campus. It’s not easy to see whether this is seen as partnership, or chaplaincies becoming an informal agent of the state in low-level counter-terrorism!

go here for the rest: on whether the report lets the church off lightly, and the interface between prophecy and practice

(cartoon from ASBO Jesus)

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