The following questions (in bold) have been put to me in response to earlier blogs on ‘faith schools’. They are further evidence that we all bring a mental map to the issue about how the world works – or we would like it to work.
1. If we want religious freedom in the rest of the world isn’t banning faith schools in the UK the last thing we should do?
Yes I do want religious freedom worldwide. This is why I’m a sponsor and advisor to the all-party parliamentary group on religious freedom at Westminster.
However, while the existence overseas of faith schools may well be a sign of ‘religious freedom’ I don’t believe this is the case in the UK; on the contrary they can actually mask a lack of such freedom in our country because people of faith are marginalised in ‘faith-ghettos’; something that satisfies the secularist.
Care is needed to avoid faith schools becoming a form of social apartheid where ‘faith’ is rarely seen and definitely not heard in ‘public life’. My aim is to stand up for the right of people of faith to be full participants in public discourse and in public space. So my stance is precisely because faith schools could be a symptom of subtly shrinking religious freedoms in Britain.
We certainly don’t want Britain to adopt the tokenism of Saudi Arabia where a Bible may be confiscated on arrival and Christians are only allowed to meet at certain times and places (i.e. closed compounds) and then have the audacity to claim they operate ‘freedom of religion’.
2. I know you want to provoke debate; but isn’t taking this stance on faith schools likely to stir up the far right-wing people?
I’m not Anglo Saxon – son of an economic migrant; the voice of the far right has always been part of my family’s psyche. My position on faith schools is actually a stance against the right-wing, because the more faith groups are indulged, the more it antagonises the far right.
I was a champion of the needs of ordinary Muslims two decades before it was fashionable to do so. As an Evangelical I am accused of being theologically liberal for doing that. These days I find myself increasingly in the domain of the national press, which means taking on the ‘politically correct’ and the ‘racist’ who sometimes work in tandem with one another to achieve a secularist agenda.
So now I’m more likely to be accused of adopting the language of the ‘gutter press’. If I do this it’s because that’s where the public debate is. I try to elevate the conversation but have to use reference points people understand. By earning the right to be heard, I can qualify and even challenge tabloid journalists as well as attract politicians to my blog.
I got it wrong, however, by citing the Trojan Horse affair as a faith school issue. They were all state schools.
3. Don’t Christians need encouragement to be less suspicious of minorities, not more, so why are you taking this position about faith schools?
My stance is not about raising suspicion against people of other faiths (Muslim or any other) it is an attempt to spare them being a target for unnecessary right-wing angst. I hope my blog readers know I stand for grace and truth towards people of all faiths. It’s the liberal “do-gooders” who set Muslims up with silly privileges which sometimes Caucasian people don’t get. My concern is that this is what antagonises the far right. How is that not going to antagonise them?
4. If your blog reads like the tabloids (i.e. highlighting the faults of Muslims) aren’t we as Christians missing our role as ‘peace-makers’?
The fault is not those who lead faith schools (although one Hindu entrepreneur recently embarrassed the government over unethical profiteering). The core message of my blog is that some aspects of Muslim culture are nicer than British culture e.g. the respect and care for elderly parents (n.b. there are no homes for the elderly in the so called ‘Muslim world’). The gospel also challenges aspects of all our cultures and so it must be conveyed with integrity and balance about how our own culture influences our understanding of the gospel.
A friend of mine worked for an Education Authority for many years and has finished research into how resources defaulted to South Asian children (out of political correctness). This has worked to the detriment of Anglo-Saxon pupils who are arguably in greater danger in the system due to becoming victims of ‘positive discrimination’. His LEA now seems to agree with him.
I believe Britain is now in a more robust place and we are able to say: “Don’t denigrate people of faith but don’t patronise or indulge them either”.