Last month, the Government downgraded the role of Minister for Faith, handing it instead to a junior minister. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has refused to comment on speculation in the religious press that Jeremy Corbyn is thinking about appointing a Minister for Jews and a Minister for Muslims.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was once told “we don’t do religion” by Alistair Campbell. From Blair back to Corbyn may seem like a journey of a million miles but an interesting article in the Spectator illustrates that, far from being the angry atheist that some have painted him, Corbyn is much more moderate than perhaps the press are giving him credit. “I’m not anti-religious at all,” says Corbyn, “not at all… I find religion very interesting. I find the power of faith very interesting. I have friends who are very strongly atheist and wouldn’t have anything to do with any faith, but I take a much more relaxed view of it. I think the faith community offers and does a great deal for people. There don’t have to be wars about religion, there has to be honesty about religion. We have much more in common than separates us.”
As Faith and Ethics Producer at BBC Radio Gloucestershire for the past decade and more I would say the same – the faiths have more in common than that which separates them; they have an enormous amount to offer – working together and not apart. This view is seen by some Christians as being the weak option; they see the role of the Christian to ‘convert’ those who are different from us, have a different belief; we like to take the moral high ground as THE faith not a faith.
That’s one way of understanding the Christian faith but it’s not the one I can sign up to. I simply don’t believe that view is valid. Yes, there are differences, of course there are, and it seems to me that civilisation is all the better for it. Would the world be enhanced if we were all only Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish? Personally, I can’t think of a worse place to live.
One of the highlights of Bishop Rachel’s Inauguration was the fact that leaders of other faiths were invited. I know Imam Hassan from the Rycroft Street Mosque in Gloucester, he’s a friend, and I know he was thrilled to not only to be invited but also to be involved and have the opportunity to welcome Bishop Rachel. The Government may have downgraded the role of Minister of Faith but the faiths themselves should not feel downgraded but continue to find a voice in an age when the voice of reason and hope needs to be heard more than ever.
Rev Canon Richard Atkins, Faith and Ethics Producer/Breakfast presenter, BBC Radio Gloucestershire