20 September 2012
The Alliance in Wales is organising two meetings in October to discuss with leaders from around the nation issues relating to Christian visibility in society. These issues are relevant, for example, to:
1. Christian organisations that receive public funding, and who feel pressure to downplay their Christianity out of a concern that they will be discriminated against if they do not (Furthermore, the conditions that apply to recipients of certain grants and funds mean that there are often restrictions on the religious language that can be used).
2. Christian organisations who, because of equality legislation, cannot insist that job applicants be committed Christians when advertising posts. This seems to be increasingly relevant to Christian projects involved in areas such as care, substance misuse and homelessness.
3. Christian organisations that are using significant numbers of non-Christian volunteers
4. Christian organisations that have or are considering having non-Christian trustees.
Why is this important? From the Alliance’s perspective, our engagement with government and public sector bodies has been made all the more easier in recent years by being able to point to overtly Christian community-based initiatives such as Street Pastors, foodbanks, night shelters and CAP debt advice centres, saying that, on the whole, the contribution of Christianity to society is undeniably good and positive. This is to counter the criticisms of some secularists and others who try to marginalise Christianity, saying that it is dangerous and has no place in public life. Such critics will also often try and imply that the typical evangelical Christian is one who is homophobic and only interested in converting people. While we disagree fundamentally with that assertion, the wealth of Christian community-based initiatives at the moment – often evangelically-led speaks volumes to the contrary.
Christians in Wales are disadvantaged in such ‘culture wars’ as Welsh Government does not have the equivalent to the UK Government’s helpful document ‘Ensuring a level playing field: funding faith-based organisations to provide publicly funded services’. Indeed there is anecdotal evidence that suggests a tendency within Welsh Government to narrowly define faith-based initiatives, equating them to interfaith work. While some policy decisions this year have given the impression that Welsh Government understands and values faith, others have not – Welsh Government was conspicuous in its silence, for example, earlier this year on the council prayers debate, in stark contrast to Eric Pickles from the Coalition Government who came out very strongly in favour of the right of councils to pray if they chose to do so.
In our discussions in October we will want to listen to peoples' experiences and look at a range of issues, including the role of the media in reporting on Christianity, our experience of working with different funders, criticisms in social media and perhaps revamping how we communicate what we do.