The official interim report is available from the communities and victims panel website here. The report contains some of the many comments recommended by the Charities Parliament and Faith to Engage paper put together. Particular reference is given to the shortcomings of ‘stop and search’. The official report notes that “‘Stop and search’ was cited as a major source of discontent with the police. This concern was widely felt by young Black and Asian men who felt it was not always carried out with appropriate respect. We were told that, in at least some instances, this was a motivating factor in the riots, including some of the attacks on the police.”

We found similar findings and suggest a potential way forward.

Oasis is about life changing work with young people, families and communities in urban areas across the UK, so it is no wonder that when the riots hit; the communities we work in were affected. Croydon, Peckham, Enfield, Bristol were all victims of the riots that we saw devastate our communities a few months ago. We decided to tackle the issue head on and  asked students from across our hubs and practitioners from across the UK what they thought caused the riots that plagued our television screens over the summer. A meeting was held at the Oasis Centre at which David Cameron’s communities and victims listening panel attended and further work was done across the Oasis family before putting together a highly informative, grass roots document in response to the riots of last summer.

 
The former Chief of Police in Brixton and Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick sat and listened to young people talk about a ‘grudge with police’ because of the way they are mistreated. There was a particular resentment with the way the police went about ‘stop and search’. One suggestion form a student from Oasis Academy Enfield was ‘before the crime happens, police need to be involved in schools, youth groups and communities’. In Response to young peoples criticisms of the police Brian Paddick agreed: ‘for success, the police need a dialogue [with young people]’. Although the police were heavily criticised on the evening the paper that Oasis Charities Parliament and Faith to Engage has put together unpacks a plethora of reasons why our cities erupted: including a genuine revolt from young people, lack of youth services, the current economic climate, and the break down of our communities. To view more of the findings as well as recommendations for how we move forward click here to view the full report.

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Blaise Pascal once wrote that all the problems in the world stem from the inability of human beings to sit still in a chair and think for 10 minutes. Last night I learned that when the TV’s and games consoles are turned off, and time is set aside to think and discuss, this is a generation who can think.

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On the 28th September churches, charities, youth groups and schools from across London will be gathering at the Oasis Charities Parliament to share their reflections post riots with the Communities and Victims Panel set up by David Cameron. For more details of the event click here. If you are unable to join us in London for our Restoring Peace event, but would like to have your say add your comments, concerns and ideas in response to the following 6 questions posed by the Government’s Communities and Victims Panel. We will ensure your views are passed on. Please indicate which question you are referring to when commenting below.

  1. What was the motivation for a small minority of people to take part in riots?
  2. Why did the riots happen in some areas and not others?
  3. How did key public services engage with communities before, during and after the riots?
  4. What motivated local people to come together to take civic action to resist riots in their area or to clean up after riots had taken place?
  5. How can communities be made more socially and economically resilient in the future, in order to prevent future problems?
  6. What could have been done differently to prevent or manage the riots? 

Following the UK riots it’s very easy to get caught up in the rhetoric, so well received by the public at the moment, demanding that something be done about the violent “feral youth” of our communities. To believe that the problem has to do with only one segment of our society, to make this debate about the “have not’s” taking from the “haves”. I believe we should not view these riots in isolation, but rather through the lens of a very different but linked crisis last year, the MPs expenses scandal.

Are looters stealing from local shop owners and MPs stealing from taxpayers really that different? I don’t believe they are. Both were motivated essentially by greed, both did it because they believed they could get away with it and both believed they were justified in their actions. Both were aspiring to get  more for themselves as they competed with their peers, whether it was the latest pair or trainers and big screen HD TV or the bigger duck pond and more comfortable second home.

The MPs approach may be less violent and more socially acceptable, but at the heart, viewed side by side, these events point to a much bigger problem with the values of our whole society, not just segments of it. Rich and poor, we are all driven by the powerful values of individualism and materialistic consumerism, of which looting and cheating on your expenses is the natural outcome. The simplistic solutions and simplistic reasons being given for why these acts of violence have taken place neglect to take into account the rod we have created for ourselves as a society by promoting consumerism and individualism as the pillars upon which everything else rests. To tackle the heart of the problem we must change the air we breathe, the culture we have created. This cannot be tackled by new policies, whether it is better policing, or more money for youth projects, instead we must take a deeper look at the foundations of what our society is built on, why we exist and what we are hoping to achieve. There’s more to life than a new pair of Nike trainers or a better pond for the garden the problem is we’re failing to communicate what that more is.

 

Rowan Williams’ recent editorial in the New Statesman – which set the right seething and the left celebrating (neither, it seems, having read the article’s judicious criticism very carefully) – is just the latest in a line of high profile archiepiscopal political interventions.

Dan Gover’s recent Theos report, Turbulent Priests?, charts in meticulous detail the political activity of the Archbishop of Canterbury since 1980. Since that time, incumbents have made statements on everything, from asylum and inner city deprivation, to abortion and euthanasia.

Many of these interventions were widely noticed, and cheered or jeered according to political taste. When he rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in over issues of inequality or climate change the left applauded and the right grumbled. When he spoke out about human sexuality or family breakdown the right praised and the left complained.  

Generally speaking, this should be quite encouraging, if not necessarily soothing, for Christians. The variety and volume of such reactions does seem to suggest that the gospel, for which the Archbishop is such a prominent ambassador, rudely cuts across our narrow political categories, edging us out of our political comfort zone.

But it is also a little paradoxical. One of the criticisms levelled at Christianity in theUK, by some Christians as well as atheists and secularists, is that we have an established church. This, they claim, is unfair. It is unrepresentative. It makes the church self-serving, and it weakens its prophetic role, drawing its political teeth.

This is a serious charge sheet. The self-serving accusation is the easiest to deal with. Turbulent Priests? sifts through a mountain of evidence to show that, with a few minor exceptions, the idea that archiepiscopal politics is self-serving is without basis. As far as we can tell, episcopal politics merits the same verdict.

The question of being unrepresentative is also a something of a red herring. The Church of England may not be as central to national life as it was fifty years ago, but it is still the body to which most people claim some form of affiliation, no matter how loose or informal. The very fact that bishops are so rooted in their locality, acting as focal points in a network that stretches everywhere inEnglandand connects with millions, serves to re-enforce this fact.

The issue of unfairness is more complex, and demands a careful consideration of what would constitute a fair political settlement. Some, such as Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at OxfordUniversity, have argued that the current form of establishment is about as fair as we could hope for from any political settlement. Others contend that many of the trappings of establishment, not least the automatic right of 26 Anglican bishops to assume seats in the Lords, cannot, by definition, be fair. There is clearly a debate to be had here although what is certainly not fair is to claim, as some secularists do, that fairness demands that religion must be kept wholly private.

The paradox comes in the last criticism, the idea that establishment draws the church’s political teeth. Gover’s report repeatedly shows that not only has establishment failed to blunt the church’s political critique, but it has actually given it a platform and a prominence that it would otherwise have lacked.

Most people know about the ‘famous’ examples of such political controversies: Runcie’s speech in the Falklandsthanksgiving service, the notorious Faith in the City report, the Archbishops’ warnings in the run up to and after the Second Iraq War, ‘shariagate’. Gover fills in the gaps between these spats, showing how, over the last thirty years, the Archbishop repeatedly spoke up against government thinking and often in the teeth of public opinion on a number of issues, such as urban poverty, asylum, and criminal justice. The fact that he was noticed had as much to do with who he was as what he said.

None of this is to claim that the only valuable archiepiscopal political intervention is one that condemns the powers that be. In an age of overwhelming political cynicism, speaking up for politics, politicians and the political process may be just as prophetic an act.

Rather, it is simply to say that the idea that establishment blunts the Church’s political critique is clearly wrong. Any priests can get turbulent but not every instance of turbulence makes a difference.

A contribution form Theos Think Tank

 

Francis Maude MP shares his thougths on the Big Society, localism and community organising. Click here to listen to the podcast. Read the Third Sector article on the evening.

Rt Hon. Francis Maude addressed a lively crowd from a wide range of charities at the Oasis Centre.

Francis Maude MP stated that there are Government plans to recruit and train 5000 community organisers, with the aim that local communities will have a structure for themselves, and one that is not dictated to by Government either national or local.

In the following question and answer session, those from local faith and community groups were given the opportunity to probe Francis Maude MP, including Chair of the evening and Charities Parliament Director Pete Brierley challenged Francis Maude MP on his own involvement in volunteering.

Also adding their thoughts on the following panel discussion was: Steve Chalke MBE (Founder of Oasis) and Dr Luke Bretherton (Senior Lecturer in Theology and Politics at King’s College London).

On the eve of strikes from the Teachers Unions, Francis Maude takes time to discuss the role of the community and voluntary sector in helping to run our country. Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, is to speak to the Oasis Charities Parliament on A Question of Balance: The Role of the State and Civil Society in Britain Today. The Minister isn’t making many friends in the public sector at the moment making redundancies, and calling for pension cuts. The question is does he have any good news for the community and voluntary sector?

The Minister is set to talk specifically about the localism agenda and community organising as two government initaitives that will hand power back to the people. However as the Director of the Oasis Charities Parliament Pete Brierley points out “Broadly speaking, nobody disagrees with localism; we all agree democracy needs to be more democratic and more local. The question is can the government really follow through and provide the resources required to help people engage in shaping their local community?” Oasis Charities Parliament aims to encourage debate and innovation between voluntary groups and the government. The event will be held at the Oasis Centre, 75 Westminster Bridge Rd, Waterloo, SE1 7HS and will run from 6.30pm-8.30pm, Tue 28th June 2011. To book tickets click here or for more information email rsvp@charitiesparliament.org.uk.

I’ve just returned from listening to Ed Milliband giving a speech to London community activists, in which he set forth his arguments for the ‘responsible society.’ Dubbed by some as the speech to reassert his authority, reactions from the audience and the press have certainly been mixed.

In an attempt to arguably keep both the left and the right happy, Milliband criticised both those at the top and the bottom who have acted irresponsibly: bankers and their large bonuses that led to the financial crisis, and those on benefits who could be out doing an honest hard day’s work, arguing that the squeezed middle are being affected by an ‘irresponsible minority.’ Labour had not done enough to change the ‘take what you can’ attitude of the 1980s and hadn’t done enough to apply the value of responsibility consistently across society, he admitted.

In an attack on David Cameron’s Big Society, Ed went on to suggest that this will never be created by an army of volunteers, although I was disappointed that he seemed to think with libraries and Sure Start centres around the country closing, volunteer opportunities were going to be drying up… Come on Ed, people are volunteering in far more ways than that! His views on the voluntary sector certainly seemed somewhat mixed. While his speech almost implied volunteers were of little consequence, when directly questioned on this issue he stressed the importance of the voluntary sector, though argued government is often a poor partner for it. Why? Because of an inability to provide sustainable funding, leading him to champion government pledging funding for voluntary organisations for at least 3 years. Amen to that at least. He suggested the government needed to be more open to using the voluntary sector and he’d welcome more engagement. Music to Charities Parliament ears perhaps, although sadly Ed still hasn’t accepted an invitation to come and speak at a Charities Parliament event!

While the rhetoric around responsibility all sounded good and I suspect few would disagree with the idea of creating responsible citizens, I was left wondering what Milliband was really proposing would be done to make this happen. Instilling values of duty and responsibility won’t happen overnight, but can take years – surely Labour needs a long term strategy in all this?

As I pondered how charities and faith organisations can best respond, I think it’s simply this: that whatever the rhetoric and slogans of the day may be, we’re called to get on with the task in hand, serving those we’re called to serve. Of course it’s great to have the backing of politicians, to engage with them and tell them what the issues are people are facing, to call them to take action, but ultimately we know the difference our work is making, we see it daily in the lives of the people we encounter. What’s more, many of us in the work we’re doing are encouraging people to be responsible. Whether it’s working with young people and raising their aspirations, helping people get out of debt or get off the streets or helping people find work, many voluntary organisations are quietly getting on with the job of building a responsible society and encouraging responsible citizenship. We can be the ones that help make it happen.

 

Susannah Clark, Act Network.

Faith to Engage is funded by the Big Lottery and is a national project working with a diverse range of faith groups to impact communities locally and policy nationally. They joint hosted our event with Lord Nat Wei and as part of the evening produced some interesting relfections form the grass roots on the Big Society.

Views on the Big Society

We agree on certain things, we disagree on others, but people of faith have faith and God in common. Some say, ‘How can God, or my God, be involved in a relationship with someone of another faith?’ In other words, ‘Where is God?’ For me, God is with me wherever and whenever, so God is with me when I visit the mosque with Muslim friends. But because God is God, God waits for us as we remove our shoes, this is the significance of taking them off.

Ken Cracknell, wrote a book called ‘Towards a New Relationship – Christians and People of Other Faith’. He talks of ‘the distinctive quality of personal relationships between believing people’. I experience this myself, when Muslim colleagues, at prayer time, pray in my office and I see their devotion. For Western Christians there can be a strangeness in relating to other faiths out of our exclusivist tradition, though this is not true for all Christians. But the Bible is useful in this area!

For example, Abraham meets Melchizedek in Genesis 14, Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.20And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. He was a priest of a different religion, of which we know nothing, he gave God (the same God) a different name, yet Abraham recognises him as a God’s servant. The most famous person of another religion in the Bible is Job. He was an Edomite (essentially an Arab), you can also read about him in the Qur’an. He is an important figure for the three faiths, without formally belonging to any of them.

Another important verse is Malachi 110 “I wish that someone among you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not at all pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will not accept your offerings. 11But my name is honoured by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honour of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

There is a similar verse in the Qur’an – 22.40 – mentioning churches and synagogues to the same effect. This is very radical, it is intended to shock, it is prophetic after all. God, through the prophet is saying I do not like your religion, your religious practices, it would be much better if you didn’t bother at all. I hope God is not saying that to us today. But, God continues, these other people, foreigners, people of other faiths, heathen even, honour my name from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings. Some Bible translations seem to have a problem with this and use the eschatological language of ‘will honour’ and so on. But the text is pointing to the current situation. God’s own people are making a mockery of worship, have even betrayed the ‘true’ faith, while the heathens, people of other faiths, are truly worshipping God.

So, what kind of relationships can we have? If we take a step of faith, just as we do whenever we consciously think of our relationship with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, just as people of other faiths do, we can see ourselves as fellow pilgrims, without, I think, deceiving ourselves. I would also pose the question, again from our Scriptures (Romans 8 ) – What relationships may result from us having God as our Father, when God is the Father of all human beings and Jesus as the firstborn among many brothers [and sisters]? Recognising that we do not own Jesus, Gandhi was inspired by him, Jewish scholars have started to reflect on Jesus as a Jewish teacher and he is revered by Muslims, who are inspired by what they read in the Qur’an – We gave Jesus, son of Mary, clear proof (of Allah’s sovereignty) and We supported him with the Holy Spirit.

Julian Bond, Director Christian Muslim Forum