British government ‘religiously illiterate’

Published September 1, 2008

A new report commissioned by the Church of England said the British government is uninterested in the church’s social role and focuses instead on minority religions.

“We encountered on the part of government, a significant lack of understanding of, or interest in, the Church of England’s current or potential contribution in the public sphere,” says the report, Moral, But No Compass, which was launched in London on June 9.

The study, from the Von Hugel Institute at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, is based on interviews over the past year with 70 bishops, lawmakers, civil servants and academics. The report describes the government as being “religiously illiterate” and knowing little about the church’s work.

“Indeed, we were told that the government had consciously decided to focus its evidence gathering almost exclusively on minority religions,” the report stated.

[pullquote]The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the church’s second-ranking cleric, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, said in a joint statement that the study detailed remarkable examples of public good delivered by the church and faith-based organizations which, if grasped imaginatively by the state, would yield extraordinarily positive results.

“On the other hand it reveals a depressing level of misunderstanding of the scale and quality of the contribution faith-based organizations make to the civil and civic life of our nation,” the two archbishops stated.

The archbishops recommend taking action on the report’s recommendations which include the creation of a government minister for religion and social cohesion, and funding for training programs for civil servants on religion and public policy. In a comment following advance media reports about the study, the government’s communities secretary, Hazel Blears, told BBC radio it was untrue that the government ignored the church in favour of engaging with Muslims.

“We’ve got a tiny minority of people in this country who seek to pervert Islam and use it as a backdrop to the kind of extremist message that poses a significant threat to this country,” she stated.


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