Sunday, June 08, 2008


Something of a fuss has broken out about a new report, commissioned for the Church of England, concerning the role of faith communities (actual and potential) in relation to publicly-funded and sanctioned welfare service provision. I have talked to one of the authors, who I know personally, and I was also interviewed for the research along with many others. But that is my only direct link with the Cambridge-based Von Hugel Institute publication, Moral, But No Compass: Government, Church and the Future of Welfare (Matthew James, £9.95), other than as someone who shares a direct concern with the issues it tackles. Among other things, as the title suggests, the report reveals some significant gaps in data and knowledge on the part of government departments, related agencies and the church itself, as far as Christian involvement in voluntary work is concerned. I have spent a good chunk of time today responding to media enquiries about all of this.

Ekklesia has already commented critically on the emerging 'new deal' between church and state over public services. I tackled some of the questions involved in the latter part of my chapter on "the churches' caring role" in Street Credo: Churches and Communities (edited by Michael Simmons, published by Lemos & Crane in 2001). Jonathan Bartley did so in his book Faith and Politics After Christendom (Paternoster, 2006).

The initial reporting about Moral, But No Compass has been rather selective, "well spun" and based on what was either a leaked document or a deliberately placed one. In any event, the full report was originally embargoed until a press conference in London tomorrow at 11am and will still be unveiled in full then, though the tone of reception and response has already been established. The archbishops of Canterbury and York will apparently issue a statement.

There is much more to be said about this (I'm respecting the embargo, even if the rush to summary judgment has already begun), but my opening comment on behalf of Ekklesia was as follows: "We believe a more careful, calm and critical evaluation is needed of the role of faith groups in public service provision. It is particularly important that the needs of the vulnerable and the reasonable expectation of all people (whether religious or non-religious) for equal treatment from public services should not be subsumed too readily in a ‘contracting-out’ culture that can put the interests of providers – government, voluntary and private agencies – ahead of those they are supposed to be helping. Research and thought is badly needed, but a confused ‘debate’ fuelled by sensational headlines and half-truths will not help anybody.”

No comments: