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The ‘Big Society’ and the Church: PM must respect Church’s ethical values in ‘true’ partnership

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Issued by Christian Concern For Our Nation (CCFON)

Press Release

For Immediate Release

19 July 2010

The ‘Big Society’ and the Church: PM must respect Church’s ethical values in ‘true’ partnership

Creative, enthusiastic Church involvement in The ‘Big Society’, as spoken of today by Premier David Cameron, will only take place if Government respects the Church’s unique character and moral basis, and resists the temptation to try to mould the Church into an ‘arm of the state’.

So says Christian Concern For Our Nation, commenting on the “potentially exciting opportunities for churches and other Christian groups to build on their existing work in serving society and building community.”

The Church is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, potential partners in building the ‘Big Society’  _ especially where the elderly and children are concerned, and is already very active, with considerable expertise, experience, resources and good-will to offer.  However, such vital resources will only be utilised to full potential if Government departments, both central and local, takes positive action to ensure that Church-based community groups can remain true to their distinctive Christian ethos as they participate.

Speaking in Liverpool as he launched the ‘Big Society’ the Prime Minister underlined his belief that the state cannot be the all-sufficient provider and saviour of our society. Mr Cameron recognised the important place that individuals and community groups play in a well functioning society and outlined plans to encourage greater participation.  The initiative includes a commitment to make it easier for such organisations to work alongside government and initial plans published by the Cabinet Office last week suggest that it will include a review of barriers to such partnership.

This investigation will be welcomed by churches and Christian organisations, many of whom have found that their commitment to Christian patterns of belief and behaviour has been used by local government to prevent them from involvement in projects, effectively barring them from greater service of their communities.

The Rt Rev’d Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said: “We welcome the idea of the ‘Big Society’ and a freer society where people are enabled to work for their local communities. Christians and Christian churches have always been at the forefront of work in the community. However, it is more and more important that in the delivery of what is needed by local communities, their beliefs and conscience are respected.”

Pastor Ade Omooba, founder of the Christian Victory Group, (a leading church-based coalition of social justice projects amongst the poorest communities in London) said: “Up and down the country, churches and Christian groups are already active in a wide range of projects to serve their local communities. In fact, the church is probably the biggest provider of such projects that benefit all sorts of people, especially the young and the old. But more and more of these organisations are finding that they are discriminated against by government because of their distinctive Christian character. This issue was not adequately dealt with by the previous government. It must be addressed now if the ‘Big Society’ is to deliver what is being asked of it.”

Gosia Shannon, founder of the Polish and Eastern European Christian Family Centre, said: “Haringey Council threatened to withdraw funding from our project because of its distinctive Christian ethos. The Council would have been successful had I not resisted the pressure, taken legal action and told the story to the newspapers. Many people would not have taken such action, which brings with it considerable stress and attention. Many people simply withdraw because of how difficult it is to maintain a Christian ethos and as a result many social action projects suffer. The Big Society idea is a great opportunity for the new coalition government to get this right so that projects like ours can flourish.”

Andrea Minichiello Williams, Director of Christian Concern for Our Nation (CCFON), added: “History tells us that again and again Christians have been at the forefront of projects that have helped and transformed their local communities and indeed society as a whole. At the ‘Big Society’ level, we need to do everything that we can to protect and promote those projects that are undergirded by Christian values. This is an ideal opportunity for Government to identify and remove those policies that discriminate and effectively bar Christians, motivated by compassion and concern, from greater involvement in society.” At CCFON, we look forward to working with government to address some of these issues so that together we can move toward a more community-orientated society.”

ENDS.

For further information:

Andrea Minichiello-Williams: 07712591164

Pastor Ade Omooba: 07956007150

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