CHURCHES and other religious organisations in London feel that they are seen by the Government as “levers rather than partners”, despite the help that they have given their communities during the pandemic.
This was the key finding of a report, Religious London, released by the think tank Theos. The research showed that frequently practising religious Londoners were more civically engaged than non-religious Londoners: 63 per cent of those regularly attending a religious service (across all religions) said that they were likely or very likely to volunteer, compared with 37 per cent of people who said that they had never attended a religious service.
It also highlighted, however, how faith groups often felt their work to be undervalued because politicians did not “do God”: “In general, the approach of public authorities towards faith groups is reactive: crisis-driven and needs-based. Interviewees believed faith groups are seen as levers to be pulled in an emergency (such as austerity cuts; terrorist attacks) rather than partners and community assets.”
A research fellow at Theos and one of the report authors, Paul Bickley, said in an online launch event last month: “Sixty-two per cent of people in the capital have a religion. There are challenges and opportunities presented by such a religiously diverse city — but have our leaders grappled with this?”
Religious London suggested that the capital was a more religiously diverse place than the rest of the UK: 51 per cent of the Christians surveyed identified as black and minority-ethnic (BAME). Religious respondents were also likely to feel marginalised: 26 per cent felt threatened because of their religious background, beliefs, or identity; and 23 per cent of Christians felt threatened compared with 45 per cent of those belonging to other religions.
The report also highlighted the more socially conservative attitudes of religious Londoners compared with the rest of the UK. Londoners were more than twice as likely as British adults outside of London to say that sex before marriage was always or mostly wrong (17 per cent versus seven per cent respectively); 63 per cent of Londoners (and 76 per cent of Christian Londoners) also thought that “political correctness” had gone too far.
Christians are less “welfarist” than both non-Christian religious respondents and those with no faith; and 69 per cent agreed with the statement “People shouldn’t rely on the welfare state” compared with 55 per cent of respondents with no religion.
The report called on religious communities, particularly “emerging” ones, to create networks that engage with public life, while, in turn, suggesting that public bodies engage more fully with faith groups as community partners and improve levels of religious literacy through training and dialogue. It also recommended that the next Mayor of London should “embrace religious groups as friends rather than foes — the high level of civic engagement amongst religious Londoners, and the opportunities that flow from it, should be recognised”.