One of the news headlines over the weekend was about the Archbishop of the Canterbury’s (Rowan Williams) view on the ‘Big Society’. In his forthcoming publication ‘Faith in the Public Square’ it is argued that the Conservatives’ Big Society is ‘aspirational waffle but it also represents an extraordinary opportunity’. (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9352412/Rowan-Williams-Big-Society-is-not-just-aspirational-waffle.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jun/23/rowan-williams-big-society-cameron?INTCMP=SRCH ).
When asked about this on the BBC Andrew Marr’s show on 24/6, the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, commented that ‘him and the Archbishop will be announcing this week a joint effort between the Government and all faiths on tackling poverty in the poorest parts of the world’ (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01kcz3c/The_Andrew_Marr_Show_24_06_2012/ ).
So we have two interesting facts here: one, religion being hard on politics of the days (i.e. the Archbishop fiercely criticising the government’s scheme) and two, religion works with the government to implement policies (i.e. the Archbishop working with the Secretary of State to address poverty). So can we describe this as a display of double-sided nature of religion? Or is this a display of unwavering role of religion in politics?
My PhD research analysed the relationship between faith groups and the UK government with a focus on international development policies from 1992 to 2011. In general, the findings showed that the government couldn’t ignore the role of faith groups in tackling global poverty due to the ‘competitive advantage’ that faith groups posses in dealing with poverty issues both at the domestic and international levels. Thus, even though the Conservative’s Green Paper on International Development did not mention faith groups among partners that they will be working with, the government has found it necessary to work with these groups if it wants to effectively address international poverty. The Conservative-led coalition government puts emphasis on working with private sectors to implement international development. However, with much publicity, the government has continued to work with faith groups in dealing with global poverty issues. Religion’s positive nature of fighting poverty and injustice is most likely one of the factors behind the Archbishop’s comments mentioned above. All in all, the news in the past weekend highlighted the ongoing role of faith in politics.