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‘Government does do God’

22 February 2013

Central government will be trumpeting the message that "people who do God do good," in order to influence local authorities that are reluctant to fund faith-based organisations, the Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi, said on Thursday of last week.

She was speaking in the Palace of Westminster at the launch of the 2012 National Church and Social Action Survey, which found that the time spent by volunteers in UK churches on social-action initiatives had increased by 36 per cent in the past two years.

When campaigning around the country, Lady Warsi said, she had encountered faith-based organisations that "almost had to present a secular face to the world, both to policy-makers and funders. I found that unusual, as it was the very faith that motivated them to do good that they were trying to hide."

Last year, during a visit to the Holy See, Lady Warsi called for a "confident affirmation of religion" in the face of "militant secularisation" ( News, 17 February, 2012). Last week, she said that this had been regarded as a "very odd thing to do", but spoke of actions, including her appointment as Faith Minister, and the holding of an Easter reception at 10 Downing Street, as examples of the "bold statement" emanating from central government that it "does do God".

The Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Canon Michael Camp, said that he had experienced the "nervousness" of local authorities regarding the support of social-action projects conducted by faith-based organisations; and noted a "decreasing understanding of faith" among government officials.

Lady Warsi said that policy-makers could not afford to be "religiously illiterate". The Foreign Office had held a series of lectures to educate staff about faith and diplomacy which were very well attended. The "loud" message coming from central government would have an impact on commissioners of services, she said. "We cannot be prescriptive, but eventually local authorities do respond to that, because they do not want to be out of step with what is happening in other parts of the country."

Lady Warsi also launched Together in Service, a three-year programme to "celebrate, promote, and link" the social-action initiatives undertaken by faith communities. Each month, a different volunteering project will be highlighted, while a "fellowship" of volunteers will provide training, information, and support to new and existing organisations. A fund of up to £300,000 will be distributed as small grants for multi-faith projects.

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