Faith and politics are put on agenda in Norwich
Faith leaders from across Norwich
have met with senior government minister Stephen Timms MP
and City Council leader Steve Morphew
to talk about engaging the faith community and local government. Keith Morris
Over 80 leaders of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and pagan groups attended the meeting in the Council Chamber at Norwich City Hall on Friday November 28 which was backed by YMCA Norfolk, Norwich City Council and FaithAction.
Cllr Steve Morphew said: “We want to engage with community groups and faith groups are right at the top of our agenda. This is a very timely initiative from the Council’s point of view as we are consulting on our community engagement strategy. We want to work with faith groups in more ways and in different ways in the future.
“We are not looking for a quick fix. We want to learn to work together to a common understanding. We want to ensure that a system of communication, engagement and relationship can be a long term cross-party one.”
YMCA Norfolk chief executive officer, John Drake, said: “This event must be a first in getting a government minister, the council leader and all these faith groups together in City Hall. We acknowledge our differences and want to work together. We want people of faith in our community to be a powerful force and to help celebrate our diversity.”
The Rt Hon Stephen Timms is MP for East Ham and a Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He is also the first ever Labour Party Vice Chair for Faith Groups, and is presently working with different faith communities across the country.
He told the audience: “Many people say that faith and politics don’t mix. But I believe that faith is the basis of many people’s lives and politics and is an essential part of their identity. The values of faith are key to making politics and society work. Faith for me is the key to my politics. To the surprise of many, faith is flourishing in today’s Britain and its influence is growing.
“The Christian faith is firmly a part of the Democratic Party in the USA and the President elect, Barack Obama
. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
is also a man of faith,” said Stephen.
“When he became Prime Minister in June, Gordon Brown appointed me Labour Party Vice Chair with responsibility for faith groups, and Government adviser on faith. We are committed to: listening to faith communities; to seeking their help in shaping Government policy; to partnering with faith groups on shared goals; and to celebrate your presence and saying thank you for the work you are doing in every community in the land.
“While faith will always be deeply personal, we are also seeing more and more that faith is the impulse and motivation for invaluable public activity – for community and social engagement.
“Some say faith and bureaucracy can’t mix. I believe they can and they must – even though it can be bruising and hard. The prize is a precious one – in transformed lives of people your projects serve, and transformed communities within which they live,” said Stephen.
“Some critics argue that faith groups have a bias and are not capable of providing non-discriminatory, equal and accountable services. That criticism is untrue, and I welcome the Charter developed by Faithworks
to help faith groups counter it. Signatories agree to serve and respect all people regardless of their gender, marital status, race, ethnic origin, religion, age, sexual orientation or physical and mental capability. They acknowledge the freedom of people of all faiths or none to hold and express their beliefs and convictions respectfully and freely. All those are commitments which people of faith can enter into in good conscience.
“Just as faith can be no justification for prejudice, neither can it provide any excuse for a lack of excellence in service provision. Faith based organisations need to pursue excellence, professionalism and accountability – perhaps even more so given the scrutiny, and – from some quarters scepticism – they are likely to attract,” said Stephen.
He also drew attention to the £70m available in the Community Builders Fund
to strengthen the role of community organisations and the third sector across England.