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.