Thursday, January 29, 2009

Labour Minister "Faith communities offer a rich resource"

It appears that Labour is now prepared to 'do God', following the departure of devout Mr Blair to sort out the Middle East (that went well). As Ruth Gledhill reports, Stephen Timms (financial secretary to the Treasury) has given a major speech on how the government can work with faith groups. Here's a bit of it

What I want to argue today is that the faith communities offer a rich resource of hopefulness which, in progressive politics, we need to tap into and draw upon. The faith communities have not always been seen as the natural allies of progressive politics. Indeed, in the United States, there has been a powerful alliance between Christian organisations and conservatism. We saw that alliance loosening with the election of Barack Obama.

Faith communities have a great deal to offer us, not least in their resource of hopefulness, as we build a new politics based on hope to respond effectively to the challenges we face. They can form the basis for a broad coalition of hope.

There is a twofold challenge here. A challenge to progressive politicians to show they recognise faith-based perspectives and contributions as valid and mainstream, rather than irrelevant and marginal. That means recognising that faith cannot be relegated to the private sphere – and as IPPR has already argued – addressing faith literacy in central and local government, so that officials can deal intelligently with input from faith communities. And it means thinking hard about identity, recognising the part faith plays, and getting beyond ‘We don’t do God’.

And a challenge to faith communities and their members. To recognise that, in democracy, people are entitled to hold strongly divergent views. It is right to work with people you disagree strongly with on very important subjects, in order to make real in a community the hope which faith instils.

full speech here. The whole thing is worth a read, and not just because he gives a free plug to Street Pastors. Of course, 'he would say that wouldn't he', being a Christian, but the point is that Labour ministers haven't been saying this sort of thing until quite recently.

The timing is interesting: with Dubya leaving the White House, Timms talks about faith groups working with the progressive agenda rather than against it, and Obama becomes Exhibit A in this regard. He also cites Desmond Tutu, Tom Wright and Pope Benedict, as well as several examples of faith communities making a practical difference on the ground.

There are also some headlines, on page 2 of the report, from a Tearfund survey suggesting a strong rise in church attendance last year - no sign of it on their main website as yet.


  1. Yes, welcome stuff. I have been involved in a number of events over the last eighteen months at which Stephen has been present - all events trying to open up the trust and understanding between faith communities and the public authorities - and I felt he was gradually gaining in confidence that now was, indeed, the right time to push this forward. We really do face a moment of opportunity for a new kind of mutuality and partnership, in the face of a new kind of politics and civitas to follow our present crises...

    ....and I, for one, am very proud to be leading faith-literacy and -engagement training for all the staff of one of our large District Councils later this year. Encouraging, positive stuff!

    Go well.

  2. 'They can form the basis for a broad coalition of hope.'

    The Onion already covered this story.

    "This bill acknowledges the immeasurable role of hope in envisioning a better world for everyone," Bush said during a press conference. "Starting today, I ask all Americans to hope together as one nation that the difficult problems that grip our nation will go away someday."

    The president's move will help direct federal funds to such groups as the National Hope Foundation, which has been hoping for a cure for cancer for nearly two decades.

    "There are many in our country who are without hope," Bush said. "Yet there are many respected organizations in America that are actively hoping things get better.

    Another project slated for assistance in is a Louisiana-based teen-pregnancy reduction program, in which volunteers hope teens abstain from intercourse.