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20 January 2011

Co-belligerence in Wales – an introduction

Co-belligerence was a military term introduced to evangelicals in the UK by the late Dr Francis Schaeffer in the 1970s. It means to wage war alongside someone who is not a formal ally against a common enemy. In the 1970s, many evangelicals found common cause with Catholics and became co-belligerents with them in the fight against abortion.

Nowadays, almost 40 years on from when evangelicals first began to grapple with this topic, there are abundant examples of co-belligerence, both in Wales and in the wider UK. 

In my opinion there are four different categories of co-belligerence - policy, campaigning, ecumenical and partnership with government in the provision of social services, with this fourth type only recently being considered as co-belligerence. 

Examples of this fourth type are increasing, not just for evangelical initiatives but for Christian ones in general. Many of the latter are driven by evangelicals, despite not being overly evangelical in nature.  Street Pastors is an obvious UK-wide one, partnering themselves with local councils and the police. Some might say that this is co-operation rather than co-belligerence, but it can be argued that this distinction between the two becomes very blurred in practice and that it's better to cluster together all examples of evangelical socio-political engagement; while it can be further argued that they all contain an element of co-belligerence in one shape or form as well. 

Bethlehem Church Life Centre in Cefn Cribwr, near Bridgend, would be another example. They received the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in 2007 and work closely with their local council, although the relationship is an informal one. 

Though we are starting to see many encouraging examples around Wales, there is still much prejudice in government against faith groups to overcome, often rooted in a militant secularism that denies faith the right to be expressed in the public square. 

Surprisingly, when we look at the global picture, patterns of evangelical engagement with government and international organisations are often more numerous than what we'd expect. The church-led Jubilee 2000 campaign, for example, was a crucial juncture in the World Bank's relationship with faith groups. The impressive work of some Christian development organisations, including Tearfund, has led to a climate in which their work and unique contribution is respected by governments and donors such as the Department for International Development (DfID )and USAID, leading to useful partnerships being formed.

The breakthroughs that we are seeing in this type of co-belligerence is having the effect of enabling politicians, civil servants and decision-makers to better understand the evangelical constituency. While we want to avoid our faith being watered down so that everyone is willing to work with us, there is ground to be gained by forming partnerships with government and perhaps more of a willingness on their part to engage with us than what we previously thought.

This article is published in accordance with the Alliance's Basis of Faith; however, this is a comment piece and therefore is unable to reflect every detail and nuance of belief held by Alliance members. Comment pieces may express views on which there is a divergence of opinion or understanding among evangelicals.