Saturday, February 07, 2009

Faith in public: Blair and Blears, Nurses and Curses

Tony Blairs speech at the Obama prayer breakfast makes interesting reading:

Today, religion is under attack from without and from within. From within, it is corroded by extremists who use their faith as a means of excluding the other. I am what I am in opposition to you. If you do not believe as I believe, you are a lesser human being.

From without, religious faith is assailed by an increasingly aggressive secularism, which derides faith as contrary to reason and defines faith by conflict. Thus do the extreme believers and the aggressive non-believers come together in unholy alliance.

And yet, faith will not be so easily cast. For billions of people, faith motivates, galvanises, compels and inspires, not to exclude but to embrace; not to provoke conflict but to try to do good. This is faith in action. You can see it in countless local communities where those from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples, tend the sick, care for the afflicted, work long hours in bad conditions to bring hope to the despairing and salvation to the lost. You can see it in the arousing of the world’s conscience to the plight of Africa.

There are a million good deeds done every day by people of faith. These are those for whom, in the parable of the sower, the seed fell on good soil and yielded sixty or a hundredfold.
What inspires such people?

Ritual or doctrine or the finer points of theology? No.

it's a speech that could be delivered in America without apology, but Blair hints at the difficulties with faith and public life in the UK

I do not mean by this to blur the correct distinction between the realms of religious and political authority. In Britain we are especially mindful of this. I recall giving an address to the country at a time of crisis. I wanted to end my words with “God bless the British people”. This caused complete consternation. Emergency meetings were convened. The system was aghast. Finally, as I sat trying to defend my words, a senior civil servant said, with utter distain: “Really, Prime Minister, this is not America you know.”

do read the whole thing, very good.

Hazel Blears spoke to a new Debt initiative set up by the Evangelical Alliance, aiming to co-ordinate and resource Christian responses to the debt crunch/recession. She quoted the Bible a bit, and promised to listen more to Christian groups. A new 'charter' is promised to give local authorities/funding sources more encouragement to fund welfare work offered by Christian groups, but there's concern that it might restrict what we can actually do.

Anglican leaders, including African bishops have called for Robert Mugabe to step down. If only political leaders in Africa were just as forthright.

It's utterly bizarre that using the word 'golliwog' in a private conversation gets you the sack, whilst abusing the Prime Minister for his race and disability at a public event doesn't.

The Somerset nurse suspended after offering to pray with a patient has been reinstated. The statement from her NHS trust makes it clear that they weren't happy with what she did, but recognises that spiritual support is part of patient care:

"We feel we were right to investigate the concerns from people about Caroline’s actions...

However, we are keenly aware of the importance of an individual’s spiritual belief, and we recognise that Caroline felt that she was acting in the best interests of her patients. For some people of faith, prayer is seen as an integral part of health care and the healing process....

It is acceptable to offer spiritual support as part of care when the patient asks for it.
But for nurses, whose principal role is giving nursing care, the initiative lies with the patient and not with the nurse."

New NHS Guidelines, published at the beginning of January, state that attempting to 'preach' your religion, or expressing particular points of view consistent with your faith, could be interpreted as harassment. The guidlines are worryingly vague. There is no distinction drawn between 'preaching' faith and simply telling folk what's good about it.

The Good Childhood Report, featured in the media earlier this week, has now been published, summary here. Dave Walker has put together a good collection of links on this today.

Worth Abbey is now holding Monastic Taster Weekends, for people interested in exploring a calling to be a monk.

More on most of these in my latest Touching Base column at the Wardman Wire.

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