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Anti-discrimination laws exist to protect people from having their human rights contravened. Human rights will, at times collide, and when they do choice has to be exercised, and the rights must be held in balance. Todays news that Lord Carey has accused judges of downgrading the rights of the religious, highlights the need for clarity over how we qualify and implement different and at times conflicting rights.
I am glad we live in a society rich in services available, without discrimination, for everyone. A society in which when we are unwell we can access health care, where when we require civic advice we can access it through Citizens Advice Bureau without discrimination, and where, when relationships meet tough terrain, there are organizations such as Relate to offer guidance and support. Our need for such services are not determined by our gender, age, sexuality or any other characteristic, and therefore the access to provision should not be either.
The right to hold a religious belief, is of course important and to be protected, but as a person of Faith I would question Lord Careys conclusion that yesterdays ruling against the Christian who refused to counsel gay couples will adversely affect me and encroach on my expression of faith. Christians can work in the world and with the world without losing their identity, we can be distinctively Christian without refusing to serve those whose worldview or ethics are different to ours, whose religion is different to ours, or whose sexual orientation is, by some Christians opposed . We all have the right to hold views, and to express these views, but a refusal to deliver services is a more complex issue.
Gary MacFarland worked for Relate. An organization that accepts a responsibility to serve all and is eligible for money from the public purse as a result. Mr Macfarland, as we all do, does of course have the right to choose not to deliver services to a gay couple , however he does not have this right at work when his job requires a responsibility to serve all. If Mr MacFarland wishes to exercise that right, it is his responsibility to find a job that will allow that.
I would however urge caution. It is easy to get on the band wagon of protecting religious rights without thinking about whether it is the wisest thing to do, or indeed the best expression of our faith. In seeking the freedom of religious speech, we are of course seeking this freedom for people of all faith, and as easily as discrimination can infringe on the wellbeing of people refused service or respect based on their sexuality, so too, discrimination and disrespect could land at our door, and we will have contributed to the legitimacy of this. I wonder too about the theological assumptions that are exercised in the endeavor to reserve the right to discriminate. This is not the approach of Jesus of Nazareth who in his actions heralded the assertion that there is no division between Jew and Greek, Male and Female, Slave and Free. The Christ who welcomed the economically unjust, the sexually illicit, people from across the border in Samaria, and treated women as fellow humans. The Christ who would be found with the sections of society discriminated against and disrespected in 1st century Palestine.
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society is today accusing Christians of “seeking to create a hierarchy of rights that places Christian dogma over the rights of people to fair treatment” Surely treating people fairly, indeed sacrificing our own rights for others is at the very heart of Christian Dogma, protecting our rights never was.
Nancy Doyle is the Faithworks team leader
Young people not interested in politics / the election / world issues / not informed and passionate about the future? I answer any such claims with a resounding NO! I (retired teacher) was in awe of the large audience of young people who attended the Charities Parliament, Power 2010, Student hubs event on Monday evening (27th April). Representing a number of organisations, they put deeply well-thought and searching questions to four parliamentary candidates from the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats and Green parties. The atmosphere of interest, the evidence of sound factual knowledge, the willingness to listen to the panel and respond was phenomenal. I have been to a number of events where the panel talks – answers to their own agenda rather than answering the questions – the audience sit fairly passively and then everyone goes home. Not so on Tuesday night! The parliamentary candidates particularly Hilary Benn (Lab), Simon Hughes (Lib Dem) and Darren Johnson (Green) were impressive but the event was all about New Voters taking up the mantle. I have no fear for the future with this calibre of youngsters. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and learnt much too.
Jenny Wilson, Croydon
During the General Election campaign I have had the pleasure of travelling around the country as part of my job, and as part of my own interests, running workshops and meetings on politics for friends, young people, campaigners and local communities who are desperate to know more about politics and how to get involved. This has given me a sometimes bizarre insight into people around the country and their thoughts, opinions and knowledge (or often lack of it) in traditional politics. These are normal people who are mostly passionate about local, national and international issues and just wanting to do their civic-community duty and have a say on things that effect them, but do not know enough about our political system to feel that they can.
As I am a self confessed political junky (and have been for an embarrassingly long time) I have become one of those people who are literally obsessed with election coverage in newspapers, on radio 4 and political blogs. I have almost got to the point that I forget about the party political spin of pretty much every newspaper in the country and the constant jargon and metaphors that media outlets and politician so love to use. What has been startling from my little campaigns tour is the massive difference in understanding between those who write and work in politics at this time and those attempting to find out more. I am constantly hearing of people struggling with politics and find newspapers as untrustworthy and confusing as the politics they describe. If politics needs to be cleaned up and find ways to resonate with the electorate better, so does the media.
The rise in Clegg popularity after the first debate has been both surprising and added interest to the election campaign. Of course with this kind of jump in the polls the media’s role should be to scrutinise Liberal Democrat policies in the same rigorous way that they do to the two leading parties, however with all News International papers going for Nick’s jugular in the papers this morning and rumours of them also attempting to persuade other media outlets to do the same for party political reasons, you have to ask whether they are encouraging people to get more involved in politics or whether they are merely becoming as bad as the politics and politicians that they so love to hate. It is our job to ensure that people do know that there are passionate and inspirational politicians out there and that it is vital that people across the country know enough about politics and their politicians so that they can make their mind up and have an active involvement in the leadership that affects every aspect of all of our lives.
Jo Greening is a Parliamentary Officer for Save the Children
I have time for Pullman, the Dark Materials reminded me of books I read as a child which broadened my imagination, gave me a way of plumbing the depths of possibility, belief, spatiality, and which developed in me the courage to think independent-mindedly. Books which position themselves in the context of varying faith and non faith positions encourage us to think about our humanity and the capabilities and responsibilities that go with this, Pullmans are no different.
I’m not going to make any predictions about the outcome except to note that political apathy will probably be the principal winner. In 2005, the Labour Party won the election with 35.3% of the popular vote, compared with the Conservatives’ 32.3%, but only about 22% of those eligible to vote were responsible for putting Labour into power. To coin a phrase, Houston, we have a problem.
What’s a Christian response to all of this?
The place to start is to ensure that our understanding of Christianity is correct. In Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith rightly argues that “Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly – who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love.”
On the basis that Christianity is about loving God and loving neighbour rightly, what are the implications for politics? The principal consequence is political engagement itself. Love of God and neighbour demands it. Political apathy simply isn’t an option. How can we love our neighbours today without being concerned about the public policies which affect so much of their lives, for better or worse? One theologian writes, “Love of neighbour today has an inescapable political dimension. To think we can love our neighbours without being concerned about the political policies which shape their lives is to live in unreality.”
Politics is the process by which people make decisions together. Politics is concerned with the Polis, the Greek word for ‘city’. In practice, our political engagement could involve being part of a residents’ association, being a school governor, campaigning, joining a political party or standing for the local council. In our democratic political context, engaging politically involves voting. Democracy offers us the possibility of sharing in political power and it’s difficult to disclaim that opportunity. Of course, we have a ‘right’ not to vote, but shouldn’t our vision be bigger than that? We should ensure that we influence which party gets into power instead of simply complaining about whatever party gets there.
This blog post isn’t designed to guilt trip anyone; it’s not even principally about getting us to the polling station on 6 May. It is intended to challenge us to recognise that politics is essential to Christianity and encourage us to respond accordingly.
Paul Wooley is the Director of Theos
Simon Hughes MP for North Southwark and Kate Hoey MP for Vauxhall speak on the role of the faith and third sector in helping to build healthy communities. This is particularly pertinent if you are living or working in Southwark or Lambeth.
The landscape has changed. Ten years ago, even five years ago, as we led up to the General Election there was widespread ignorance regarding the work of churches within their communities. Government lacked the vernacular to speak of the role of faith, there was no level playing field and explicit faith ethos’ widely equated to discrimination against the organization.
The landscape has changed. The Faithworks Charter has opened doors for Christian organizations who want to hold on to their distinctive Christian Identity and still work in meaningful partnership with local and national government to deliver services to communities. The Campaign that the Faithworks Movement was birthed with, providing a 75,000 strong voice from faith communities calling on government to recognise their work and create a level playing field has done its work. The landscape has changed.
I am confident that there is an open door ahead of us. The country may be in crisis, but all 3 Party leaders in their interviews with Steve Chalke, launched today on radio 4, have indicated their intention to partner with local churches and Christian projects in the work towards recovery. Our audience with Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown has galvanized my observations, that now, as never before, politicians have a richer understanding of the contribution of faith groups , and the fear of engaging with faith groups to deliver services has diminished. In this I draw hope.
In the minds of our political party leaders there is little doubt, our history is rich. Rich in initiatives that have combated poverty, pioneered health care and extended education to those unable to afford it. But riches in history will not make us flourish in 2010 and beyond. We will be judged by this generation on our response to societies felt needs in the here and now. And from the assertions of the Party Leaders it will not be the prejudice of government that will stand in our way. The gauntlet has been laid down by all three parties –‘tell us how you want to contribute’, they are saying, ‘ we want to work with you.’
Nick Clegg told Steve Chalke that “Whitehall cannot.. and should not do everything” David Cameron spoke of the need for a big society not a big state. My hunch is that we are in a time where both are needed, a big enough state to protect and provide for those who are vulnerable or whose worlds have fallen apart in the economic crisis, but a big society who own the recovery together. The church, I propose, has a role in both. A voice to government that helps shape what the state looks like, what its priorities are, how it delivers its activity, and a vehicle spearheading the big society, providing a theology of engagement, opportunities for involvement, and a commitment to the local community that endures beyond a political term, a commitment that is embedded, localized and relevant.
And I am heartened that all three Party Leaders have at least indicated their agreement. Nick Clegg declared “We want to work in Partnership with those who want to put something back into the community” and spoke fluently of how he has experienced churches playing this role. Cameron espoused that we should celebrate faith based organisations and welcome them to do even more to help build the big society; and Gordon Brown recognizing that faith is something that goes way beyond markets in motivating people claimed that alongside government Britain needs the contribution of the thousands of individuals, who motivated by their faith, serve their local communities.
So, Faith has been recognized as valuable by our political leaders, not just its outputs. This is a springboard from which we must find the momentum and creativity to bring new ideas to the table, and forge new partnerships that help build healthy and sustainable communities
To watch the interviews visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfeownbNzHI
Nancy Doyle is the Faithworks Team Leader
The big known secret is out. Gordon Brown has finally called the election date for the 6th May. The question is who will win? At one point Cameron had a 20 point lead but as the date gets closer it seems Cameron can’t knock out the political maestro who for so long has pulled the strings at no.10. Gordon Brown seemed tired and fed up just a few months ago, head down and in retreat. It was only after Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon’s bodged attempt of mutiny that Brown seemed to find new life, and new fight. It seems in the fight Gordon has found punch and Cameron who has polled so well and reunited and reinvigorated the centre right is losing his. Cameron it seems is more worried about putting a foot wrong than putting a foot right and so has said little to convince the country as to why he should have the top spot. Instead he has focussed on why Brown is not good for the job. Many voters know what Brown has brought this country over the last decade but voters are prone to vote for the devil they know rather than the devil they don’t. Cameron’s task is to step up a gear, stop telling us why we shouldn’t vote for Brown and start telling us why we should vote for him. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday I was reminded of the time I sat in a mud hut in Southern Angola conducting interviews with a local colleague called Martin, when he turned to me and said “Charlie, you know what they say, a new broom sweeps quicker but an old broom knows all the corners.” Read the rest of this entry »