the baroness and the desire for a new relationship

Admittedly it was a couple of weeks ago but the airwaves were saturated with coverage of the Pope’s visit soon after so I didn’t pick up on Baroness Warsi’s speech given to Church of England bishops on the 15th September.  Given that Stephen Timms has now responded for Labour, it’s fairly obvious that the relationship between faith groups and politicians is a hot topic. It was interesting listening to an exchange on radio5 live this morning that may help us to understand why society has often misunderstood the faith community. The interviewee was giving a passionate explanation of his Christian faith, how it guides him and what it looks like in day to day life- all good stuff. Then he was posed a question about the Pope’s suggestion that society needs to be more open to religious views. But rather than play the ball he chose to play the man. He wanted to emphasise some clear blue water between himself and our recent visitor (‘I’m a born again Christian…’) and never answered the question. In the end he conceded he wasn’t a fan of ecunemism- a totally unnecessary cul-de-sac of his own making. This for me highlights a key problem amongst us: we so easily become focussed on theological dividers even when they are not the subject of the question. Had he been asked about the merits of the theology of trnssubstantiation- fair enough. But this was a non-hostile, enquiring probe into the need for society to be more connected to religious input. Baroness Warsi is right to emphasise the need for a new relationship and it’s encouraging to hear that religious adherents will not be considered ‘oddities, foreigners and minorities.’ Stephen Timms believes that ‘Labour can’t afford not to engage with faith’. But the lessons for us are clear: the opportunity may be there but we will only be taken seriously if we engage with the questions of the day- recognising the wider audience. There is no point playing out theological battles in public when that is of no interest to the rest of society.

We should welcome the opportunities for faith groups to expand their role as service providers.- we are thankful for the promise of a new relationship between government and faith. But we should remember this: we can only earn a hearing if we are serious about being taken seriously.


2 thoughts on “the baroness and the desire for a new relationship

  1. Hi Gareth
    A real challenge here. I did not hear the item on R5 and you have not stated who was being interviewed. Clearly there are some people who get air play on these occassions who are open to challenge on either a personal or organisational basis. There are sadly one or two who are clearly not (Christian Voice being the most vociferous of these). Hopefully the damage done is limited and the story will run long enough for a broader voice to be heard. My own view is that we are sometimes better at sitting at home and getting irritated, than of providing feedback to people and organisations who may be willing to hear concerns. I recall a few years ago contacting a major organisation with my concerns at their public approach on homesexuality which was making my witness to friends incredibly difficult. It turned out that the only feedback they had receieved was telling them to be more hardline and they welcomed my intervention. Over time their line has become even more nuanced and I like to feel i may have helped.

    1. Ian
      I didn’t give a name because I didn’t hear the introduction so missed it. Even though I now think I know who it was, I’m not really interested in passing it on as he was not representing a campaigning charity or church- simply giving his testimony. I agree, though, that when there is an opportunity to challenge those (especially organisations) who communicate with lack of understanding or lack of empathy- we should do so.

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