Gov't Needs Christians to Help Counter Extremism, Bishop Says

The Bishop of Rochester has attacked the "mess" of multiculturalism and urged the government to utilize the United Kingdom's millions of Christians in building community cohesion.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said that the "policies of successive governments and local authorities" and the promotion of multiculturalism "at the expense of national and community integrity" had led to social segregation, "parallel lives" and the emergence of extremism.

"The Government is right to seek to unravel this mess – but it must be done with the widest community and national partnerships," he wrote.

"If the effects of years of misguided multicultural policies are to be rolled back, the Government will have to work with social housing trusts (for instance), including church ones, to promote integrated communities," Nazir-Ali added. "It will have to encourage schools to reflect the diversity of the community, instead of being religious or ethnic enclaves.

"Britain is not and never has been a wholly secular democracy. Its national life and institutions are based on Christian principles."

The bishop was responding to a report, released last week, by the Von Hugel Institute which concluded that the government underestimates the contribution of the Church of England to civic society.

The "Moral but no compass" report said there was within government a "significant lack of understanding of, or interest in, the Church of England's current or potential contribution in the public sphere."

At a time when many Christians are concerned that the Government favors Muslims, the report similarly concluded that the Government was focusing on the "minority religions."

Nazir-Ali said that such a policy would fail to address the problem of extremism.

"Is that policy sensible or even realistic?" he wrote in the newspaper. "In Britain the great majority of people (including many in the ethnic minorities) identify themselves as Christian. Will extremism be combated by concentrating on a single faith or will it be better fought by proper attention to all faiths?"

Countries rooted in Christian values "face a serious ideological challenge from extremists," Nazir-Ali noted.

"Such a challenge cannot be met by turning our backs on the very resources, spiritual, moral and intellectual, that both make it possible to fight extremism and are the reason for our determination to maintain all that is valuable in British polity, culture and public life," he said.

He urged the government to counter extremism by supporting faith groups in their civic work.

"The Government should be putting its resources wherever civil society is being strengthened, where people are working for social inclusion, where the needs of the most vulnerable are being met," he said. "Every faith community deserves recognition if it is engaged with the wider community in these ways."

The bishop pointed to the thousands of believers who want to serve their communities because of their Christian faith.

"Christian convictions are central to any explanation of why thousands of people volunteer for tasks, with no reward, knowing that they are doing the right thing," he stated.

The bishop of Rochester noted that he was not arguing for special privileges for the Church of England, but was rather calling for "fairness in acknowledging the contributions of its members and in weighing up its arguments for the common good."

He called for a "proper national debate" on these issues and urged Secretary of State Hazel Blears to "understand, and draw on, the enormous resources she has available for promoting community cohesion – the millions of people who are Christians and endorse and practice Christian values."

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