Faithworks has recently launched an initiative aimed at ensuring that faith-based groups are given backing in their community work, rather than being treated with suspicion or discrimination.
The Faithworks 2010 Declaration, which supporters are urged to sign and which Founder, Steve Chalke, has promised to deliver ‘personally and publically’ to the ‘incoming Prime Minister’, calls on the latter to:
1.Recognise the important contribution that local churches and Christian charities have made historically, and can make in the coming years in providing services within local communities across the UK.
2.Acknowledge the indispensible role that faith in Christ plays in the motivation and effectiveness of welfare programs developed by churches and Christian charities.
3.Encourage and promote further initiatives and deeper partnership underpinned by legislation, which assess services based on best value and contribution to the whole community, without discriminating against the faith that is vital to the success of the work of churches and faith-based organisations.
Copies of Faithworks 2010 are available on the Faithworks website and Christians can either sign on line or print them out for churches to gather signatures and send in.
We welcome Faithworks 2010 as an important and timely project and encourage all Christians to consider signing the declaration.
We were somewhat puzzled and perplexed, however, to see Faithworks’ criticism of the Westminster 2010 Declaration in a press release on 7 April.
The statement begins by affirming ‘that participation in democracy is crucial, and welcomes initiatives that facilitate this’, a view we would heartily endorse.
However it then goes on to say that Faithworks ‘will not be signing the Westminster Declaration… because it suggests that government should be chosen according to their responses to only three issues – protection of human life, marriage and conscience’
This is a surprising misrepresentation of the purpose and content of Westminster 2010.
First, Westminster 2010 is not party political but rather calls on individuals ‘in positions of leadership, responsibility and influence to pledge to respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’. Specifically it asks this question of individual parliamentary candidates in the upcoming general election.
Second, Westminster 2010, like the Faithworks Declaration, has a specific focus. It does not purport to be a Christian manifesto or a comprehensive statement of Christian doctrine, but rather deals explicitly with the growing problem of Christians facing discrimination, intimidation or even prosecution simply for expressing, or living according, to orthodox Christian beliefs. This discrimination is particularly, but by no means exclusively, evident in responses to Christian beliefs about human life, marriage and conscience. The fact that Christian community initiatives are sometimes either not supported or even intentionally opposed by government is actually echoed in Faithworks 2010.
Westminster 2010 certainly does not suggest, as Faithworks claims, that Christians should vote for a government that ‘protects embryos, upholds the uniqueness of heterosexual marriage and protects freedom to express Christian beliefs… without first examining their stance and policies regarding education, health care, welfare, poverty reduction, international development etc’
It does affirm that ‘Protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience are foundational for creating and maintaining strong families, caring communities and a just society’, Christian sentiments with which we are sure that Faithworks would concur.
But in expanding this it specifically states that as Christians we take seriously our responsibility to ‘support, protect, and be advocates for children born and unborn, and all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, in single parent families, poor, exploited, trafficked, appropriately seeking asylum, threatened by environmental change, or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies.’ Its scope is very broad, and encompasses a wide range of concerns shared by those on both sides of the political spectrum. It is fact far broader in its scope than Faithworks 2010.
Faithworks accusation that Westminster 2010 ‘sets Christians up on a moral high ground and implicitly creates divisiveness’ is both untrue and unfair. It is rather realistic about the fact that just as many did not welcome Jesus Christ in the first century, not all will welcome his teaching or those who follow him today. Implicit in Westminster 2010’s statement of faith is the belief that as human beings we are continually in need of God’s forgiveness and power to live in a way that honours him. It is a call to involvement in the world, but without moral compromise.
Likewise Faithworks’ implicit claim that Westminster 2010’s signatories have a theology which is ‘imposing’ rather than ‘inclusive’ and serve others in a ‘discriminating’ way are charges not borne out by the evidence. The Christian theology in Westminster 2010 is orthodox and its signatories are affirming their commitment, by God’s grace, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and to love and serve others.
Westminster 2010 joins Faithworks 2010 in affirming social action, the responsibility of Christians to serve our communities by caring for the vulnerable. However it also seeks to emphasise our complementary commitments to Christian doctrine, ethics and justice.
We are sure that the authors of Faithworks 2010 would be the first to agree that we must not reduce Christian responsibility purely to social action. Being faithful to Christ also includes making disciples, voting according to Christian conscience, standing for justice, seeking just and fair legislation and most importantly proclaiming the Christian message of forgiveness and eternal life through repentance and faith in Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf.
Social action is an important, indeed crucial, Christian responsibility. But it is not the only one. We must be equally committed to fulfilling these other Christian callings – realising that, although they may not win us the same level of popularity as our good works, they are nonetheless equally part of being Jesus’ disciples.
We hope that Christians will in fact support both Westminster 2010 and Faithworks 2010 and be able to rejoice in their different yet complementary aims. We would encourage every Christian, in good conscience, to consider signing both.