“There are three things I don ’t like about you.” The then Head of the Council Housing Department wasn’t a man to mince his words. I’d just outlined our plan to set up a small, referred-access hostel for homeless young people in his borough. “First,you ’re a Christian. Second, you ’re an Evangelical Christian. Third,you ’re a minister! We don ’t need any hostels run by your type around here. If you open,it ’ll be over my dead body!” I don ’t know what happened to him, but we did open. What ’s more,in spite of the vehement protests of that Head of Housing over a decade ago,the local council is now in absolutely no doubt just how good a job Oasis does. A senior representative of that same London borough council admitted to me recently that our resettlement figures were impressive – in fact,they were ones he wished other hostels on his patch could emulate.
Yet amazingly, Oasis still finds itself facing religious discrimination. And often when the work we do is given official backing, the element of faith gets deliberately left out of the equation, shunted carefully out of the limelight like an embarrassing relative. Many of our projects have been praised by local statutory bodies, but always in terms that take no account whatsoever of the fact that we ’re a faith-based charity. The problem is, a great many ‘secular’ institutions and statutory bodies look at what we do and assume, wrongly, that our faith is a kind of bolt on extra. And more often than not, it’s a bolt-on extra they’d rather bolt-off.
And we ’re far from alone. Local churches and Christian agencies of all kinds tend to find themselves being effectively discriminated against purely on the grounds of their religious convictions. For a whole host of reasons – from the groundless suspicion that all Christian care is really just a covert attempt at church ‘recruitment’ (a bums-on-seats exercise), to straightforward anti-Christian prejudice – a great many churches and Christian charities find themselves constantly having to ‘hide their light under a bushel’ in their dealings with local statutory bodies. In effect, they ’re forced to choose between either massively downplaying their religious core and commitment or missing out on taking a vital stake in local community action. They risk losing both opportunities for partnership and vital funds and resources from local authorities.
Why should one of the key things that makes us so effective, and has helped us establish such a good track record as a care provider, be an embarrassment or an impediment when it comes to getting recognition, respect and vital resources? Why are local councils,and some other governmental organisations, still suspicious of the role that our faith plays in our work? Why should we have to de-emphasize our Christian ethos and vision when it’s such an integral part of who we are?
Most of those people who oppose Christian projects because they’re Christian imagine that if a project has no explicit basis of faith or values, it therefore comes value-free. But the truth is that nothing comes value-free. As Lesslie Newbigin pointed out, the myth that in public life we can rely on totally objective facts and opinions, entirely neutral and unencumbered by anyone’s personal subjective values or bias, has come under serious attack.
The idea that God either doesn’t exist or shouldn’t stick his nose into particular issues – that religious opinions have no bearing on public life – is itself a subjective religious opinion. Atheism (the belief that God doesn’t exist) and practical atheism (the belief that God might as well not exist) are just as much religious, spiritual, faith opinions as theism (the belief that God exists and gets involved in human affairs).
A friend of mine runs a well-established, highly regarded Christian youth initiative. He was recently asked by a local council to renew his contract to place youth workers with a project in a deprived, inner-city area. He was surprised by the request, as he’d had to work so hard to get the contract in the first place because of an initial hesitancy about using Christian youth workers. “Yes,”they explained, “we were initially uneasy that Christians might exert an undue influence on the young people. But the thing about your guys is, they ’re clear about there being a difference between right and wrong.
Many of the workers we ’ve had in the past have tried so hard to be PC and neutral over moral issues that the young people have failed to grasp that moral choices have real and lasting consequences. But your team sends out the message that right and wrong matter. And they have values worth copying.”
Tragically, examples like this are all too rare,and entirely dependent on individuals at a local level being open-minded enough to see past prejudice and begin to grasp the nettle of partner-ship. We need to ask the incoming Government, can we look forward to seeing more consistency and co-operation? Where the relationship between local councils and faith-based initiatives is poor, we want to see bridges built. Where the working relationships are good we want to work to strengthen them, because we believe the Church has so much to offer our society.
When will churches and Christian charities that provide welfare be consistently judged on the merits and outcomes of their work in a uniform way across the country, rather than on some-one else’s biased evaluation of their doctrinal basis of faith?
faithworks campaign declaration
The Faithworks Campaign calls on the incoming government:
- To recognise the important contribution that local churches and Christian charities have made and can make in providing welfare within the local community.
- To acknowledge the vital role that faith plays in the motivation and effectiveness of welfare programmes developed by churches and Christian charities.
- To encourage and support the work of local initiatives developing welfare in the community, including those run by churches and other faith-based organisations, through specific legislation, outcome-related monitoring and funding without unnecessary bureaucracy or cost.
- To ensure that funding criteria for government and local authority grants to projects providing welfare in the local community do not discriminate against the faith that is vital to the success of the work of churches and faith-based organisations.
To actively support the Faithworks Campaign and get it up and running in your local area, visit www.faithworkscampaign.org, or contact Nathan Oley on the Faithworks Campaign hotline on 020 7450 9050. By contacting us you can find out how to:
Come on the Tour
During April the Faithworks Campaign Tour will be visiting towns and cities up and down the country. Find out more about how you can be involved in the Campaign.
Sign the Declaration
Get everyone in your church to sign the Faithworks Declaration and we will deliver it to the incoming government following the General Election. You can sign on-line, download a petition form via the website, or obtain one by contacting the Faithworks Campaign hotline. By standing together we can make a real difference.
Organise a Hustings
As a local group of churches organise a public ‘hustings’ meeting with your sitting MP and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates in the run up to the General Election. Question them about their attitude to the Faithworks Campaign. If they were elected as your MP, how would they see their relationship with the local churches working out in practice? A brief-ing document giving details of how to organise a hustings is available on-line or from the hot-line. Get the date in their diaries now!
Buy the Book
For more information about the Faithworks Campaign and how it can make an impact both locally and nationally buy a copy of Faithworks. Published by Kingsway and priced at £4.99, Faithworks is available at Wesley Owen or any local Christian bookshop.