Saturday, June 07, 2008

Rhetoric and Reality

I've posted elsewhere a cluster of quotes from various government ministers on the positive impact of faith groups and churches on society. There are also several regional reports on the impact of the church and faith groups (see below).

However, though Gordon Brown, Hazel Blears, the Home Office and various Ministers of State seem to be queueing up to praise faith communities, a new CofE sponsored report paints a very different picture. 'Moral, but no Compass' is due out on Monday but Ruth Gledhill has put up some snippets. The Government is keen to co-opt faith groups into promoting its agenda (for example, a recent consultation on 'tackling violent extremism' suggested that FE college chaplaincies might have a role to play in what is, effectively, low-level counter-terrorism), but doesn't seem quite so keen to understand where we're coming from. The snippets paint a picture of a government which lumps faith communities together, doesn't understand them, and focuses on fringe communities rather than mainstream churches like the CofE. For example:

We encountered on the part of Government a significant lack of understanding of, or interest in, the Church of England's current or potential contribution in the public sphere. Indeed we were told that Government had consciously decided to focus its evidence gathering almost exclusively on minority religions. ... Three separate government departments admitted to possessing no evidence based on the Christian churches, despite one having proactively commissioned new research to underpin its faith-based agenda. The Office of the Third Sector could not conceive why such an evidence base might be necessary, despite ministerial claims of taking faith communities seriously.

There are plenty of examples of research, commissioned by churches and Christian groups, into the impact of Christians in welfare and public life. Faith in Rural Communities, Faith in Wales, Faith in Englands Northwest, and Daily Service (a report into faith groups in the SW) all give an evidence base for the work of faith groups - the vast majority of them churches - in community, welfare, regeneration, voluntary work etc. Faithworks also have a good number of case studies on their website.

Quoting from the report again:
Based on our interviews with politicians, government officials and people in the faith communities themselves, we can only conclude that the absence of a 'churches' evidence base is grounded in a judgement that churches are not worthy to have even a modest role in government schemes. Such a judgement contrasts strongly with public declarations by Ministers that all of civil society is welcome to the public service reform table and that the government's agenda is for all faiths rather than for a few.

Ruth's post links to a Times report and leader, the full version of 'Moral, without a Compass' is due out on Monday. This could be interesting.....

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