Faith leaders call for revised refugee policy

 

rowan-williams

More than 200 leaders of faith communities have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, Theresa May calling for urgent changes to the government’s refugee policy, particularly to allow families to be reunited.

The signatories are headed by Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, who will give a speech on Monday in front of an audience of faith leaders and refugees to reiterate the letter’s demands.

Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the former lord justice of appeal, has added her name to the letter, which is also signed by leaders and representatives of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist communities.

The interfaith letter follows similar initiatives by 350 judges and lawyers, who wrote to the then prime minister, David Cameron, last October; 120 senior economists in January; and 27 humanitarian and refugee organisations, also in January.

Church of England Bishops write to Prime Minister on refugee crisis

This press release has been issued: Bishops call on Prime Minister to provide “meaningful and substantial response” to refugee crisis

17 October 2015
The Church of England today has published a letter sent to the Prime Minister in early September signed by 84 of its bishops calling for the Government to increase the number of Syrian refugees being resettled to this country “to a minimum of 50,000” over the next five years.

Referring to the situation in Syria as “one of the largest refugee crises ever recorded” the Bishops write that “a moral crisis of this magnitude calls each and all of us to play our parts.”

Calling directly on the Prime Minister to increase his current offer to accept 20,000 refugees over the next 5 years to 50,000 the Bishops write:

“We believe such is this country’s great tradition of sanctuary and generosity of spirit that we could feasibly resettle at least 10,000 people a year for the next two years, rising to a minimum of 50,000 in total over the five year period you foresaw in your announcement. Such a number would bring us into line with comparable commitments made by other countries. It would be a meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily.”

In addition to “recognising and applauding” the announcements made by the Prime Minister the Bishops offer help from the Church of England in encouraging their churches to provide welcome, housing and foster care to refugees as well as to support the Government in its ongoing efforts.

In their letter the Bishops also called for the creation of a National Welcome and Resettlement Board, mirroring the successful work of such boards created by Government in response to past refugee crises in the 1950s and 1970s. Since the writing of the letter the board has been created with the Bishop of Durham serving as co-chair of the board.

Speaking on behalf of the bishops, the Rt. Revd. Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham said:

“The Archbishop of York recently said that the current situation has rightly been described as a refugee crisis but it is also a time of opportunity for us as a country and for our wider continent. The opportunity before us is to rise above narrow self-interest, however defined, and to embrace the highest parts of our humanity.

We recognise that both the Prime Minister and His Government responded to calls from the country for there to be a programme of resettlement and we are grateful to him for responding to those calls. However there is a real urgency to this issue with those increasingly being forced from their land as their homes are literally bombed into the ground. As the fighting intensifies, as the sheer scale of human misery becomes greater, the Government’s response seems increasingly inadequate to meet the scale and severity of the problem. It is disheartening that we have not received any substantive reply despite an assurance from the Prime Minister that one would be received. There is an urgent and compelling moral duty to act which we as bishops are offering to facilitate alongside others from across civil society.”

ENDS

The full text of the letter follows.

Rt Hon David Cameron MP

10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA
10 September 2015

Dear Prime Minister,
Like you, your Government, and the people of our nation we are deeply concerned for the refugee crisis that we have to face together. We are grateful to you and your ministers for the conversations they have already held with the Archbishop of Canterbury and others around these issues.

We pray for the millions of people fleeing war and violence in one of the largest refugee crises ever recorded, and we remember those who have tragically died seeking sanctuary on European shores: those like Alan Kurdi, the three year old boy who heartbreakingly died and was washed up on a beach in Turkey.

It is a command in Judaism , “to welcome and love the stranger as you would yourself because you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. Followers of Islam are obliged to provide food, shelter and safety to the traveller. Christ himself and his family were refugees. We are reminded that in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral there is a 17th century notice which pays tribute to “the large and liberal spirit of the English church and the glorious asylum which England has in all times given to foreigners flying for refuge against oppression and tyranny.”

Such traditions and prayers must be joined with action. A moral crisis of this magnitude calls each and all of us to play our parts.

We recognise and applaud the leadership you and your government are showing in this crisis, both as one of the world’s top international donors and the recent announcement that the government will resettle 20,000 people over the next five years.

We stand ready to play our part as well. We will:

  1. Encourage our church members to work alongside the wider community in offering welcome, orientation, integration, sign-posting and support to all refugees who come
  2. Encourage, where possible and feasible, churches, congregations and individuals to make rental properties and spare housing available for use by resettled refugees.
  3. Promote and support foster caring among churches, congregations and individuals where appropriate to help find the homes needed to care for the increasing number of unaccompanied minors
  4. Pray for, act with and stand alongside your government, to rise to the challenge that this crisis poses to our shared humanity

From what we see in congregations across the United Kingdom we are confident that the country stands ready and willing to support the government to be even more ambitious as it responds to this historic crisis.

We believe such is this country’s great tradition of sanctuary and generosity of spirit that we could feasibly resettle at least 10,000 people a year for the next two years, rising to a minimum of 50,000 in total over the five year period you foresaw in your announcement. Such a number would bring us into line with comparable commitments made by other countries. It would be a meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily.

We believe that should a National Welcome and Resettlement Board be established in response to the crisis drawing together civic, corporate and government leadership to coordinate efforts and mobilise the nation as in times past, such an effort would not be beyond the British people. A senior Bishop would gladly serve on such a board on our behalf and at your pleasure.

This letter is written to you privately at present. The College of Bishops meets in Oxford next week and will spend some time on Thursday 17th considering our practical response. If you were able to respond to me ahead of that date it would help our discussions.
Faithfully,

For a full list of signatories, go here, and scroll down

Charity chief urges Prime Minister to create CSE national inquiry

Charity 4Children is calling for a stand-alone national inquiry into the extent of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the wake of the Rotherham abuse scandal.

For Attila

4Children chief executive Anne Longfield has written to Prime Minister David Cameron to make the case for why a national inquiry is needed following the publication last week of the Jay report that found 1,400 children and young people had been victims of systematic sexual abuse over 16 years in Rotherham

The government has vowed to incorporate the findings from Rotherham into its recently announced historical child abuse inquiry, but Longfield argues this gives a “false impression” the issue is in the past when many believe CSE is a growing and widespread problem.   4Children is also concerned that the full extent of systemic neglect and agency failings identified in the Jay report will not be fully scrutinised or addressed if it is part of a wider inquiry.

In her letter, Longfield says the extent and severity of the Rotherham abuse merits a “high-level, time-limited, Prime Ministerial-led inquiry” that should focus on what went wrong in Rotherham; the extent of CSE across the UK; what needs to be done to tackle the problem; and how agencies and communities need to change in order for allegations of CSE to be taken more seriously.  

Longfield said:

“We are calling on the Prime Minister to establish a stand-alone inquiry to reveal the true extent of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and other areas and answer questions about how and why services continue to fail our children. Adding it to the remit of an historical abuse inquiry misses the point. This week alone a number of potential new victims have come forward.  

“Perpetrators of these horrific crimes were allowed to continue their abuse for decades because nothing was done to stop them. Yet the key findings from the report – agencies not working together and children not being listened to – are not new ones and government must act now to ensure that children’s voices are never ignored again when abuse of this kind is reported. 

“The full scale of this systemic failure may never be known, but government must act now to carry out an urgent and transparent investigation to listen to and protect children and make sure this never happens again in Rotherham or anywhere else in the UK.

 

Is the UK a Christian country? Archbishop Justin Welby responds.

Archbishop Justin Welby

There has been lots of debate in the last couple of weeks surrounding the issue of whether or not the UK is a Christian country, following David Cameron’s article in the Church Times.  Following various responses, Archbishop Justin Welby has written a thought provoking and humorous response to the debate:

History provides as many uncomfortable facts as science. Neither can be ignored if anyone is going to talk sense. Last week, the Prime Minister wrote rather movingly in the Church Times about his sense of this as a Christian country.

It followed up other comments from Cabinet Ministers saying similar things, and finished on Tuesday with a very measured intervention by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, whose own Christian faith is well known.

Judging by the reaction, anyone would think that the people concerned had at the same time suggested the return of the Inquisition (complete with comfy chairs for Monty Python fans), compulsory church going and universal tithes. More than 50 leading atheists wrote to the Telegraph in protest.

It’s all quite baffling and at the same time quite encouraging. Christian faith is much more vulnerable to comfortable indifference than to hatred and opposition. It’s also a variation on the normal “Sword and Grail discovered” stuff that seems to be a feature of Easter week news.

Yet the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have not said anything very controversial. It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society ……  All have been shaped by and founded on Christianity. Add to that the foundation of many hospitals, the system of universal schooling, the presence of chaplains in prisons, and one could go on a long time. Then there is the literature, visual art, music and culture that have formed our understandings of beauty and worth since Anglo Saxon days.

It is clear that, in the general sense of being founded in Christian faith, this is a Christian country. It is certainly not in terms of regular churchgoing, although altogether, across different denominations, some millions attend church services each week. Others of different backgrounds have also positively shaped our common heritage. But the language of what we are, what we care for and how we act is earthed in Christianity, and would remain so for many years even if the number of believers dropped out of sight (which they won’t, in my opinion).

The atheist protesters are wrong to argue that expressing confidence in the country’s Christian identity fosters alienation and division in our society. Indeed, it is significant that non-Christian faith leaders – among them Anil Bhanot of the Hindu Council UK, Farooq Murad of the Muslim Council of Britain and Lord Indarjit Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations –  have spoken out in support of Mr Cameron. Mr Murad said: “No one can deny that Britain remains largely a Christian country, with deep historical and structural links with the established Church. . . We respect that.”

I know from personal experience that what Mr Murad says is entirely true. And I know that, as Iain Duncan Smith pointed out, the influence of a moderate and careful and generous Christian faith has enabled us to be welcoming to other faiths. That sense of generous hospitality provides the basis for tough discussion, and it is a hospitality that protects atheists as well, and so it should.

So why the fuss? As I say, for all of us, in the church, of Christian faith, of any tradition or set of beliefs, history makes for some uncomfortable reading. Its facts are awkward for all of us, but it is no use pretending they do not exist. The PM is right on this.

The Never-Ending Pursuit of Happiness

pursuit-of-happiness

I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Sampson’s article in the LICC Newsletter:

The overarching goal in contemporary western society, at an individual and national level, is happiness.

To exchange the word ‘happiness’ for the phrase ‘well-being’ is to uncover the underlying purpose behind most current conversations in public policy, the third sector, and even the business community. Even David Cameron has argued that we need GWB (General Well-Being) to be our focus instead of GDP, as not everything that is important can be measured financially.

Cameron is surely right. However, the reason why society has been pursuing growth in GDP is that, until very recently, we were convinced such growth would make us happier. The moral argument behind our obsession with increase in wealth has been a deep-rooted sense that ‘more is better’.

This obsession has been challenged by a number of factors – the economic crisis, environmental destruction, the ‘epidemic’ of obesity, and particularly the mountains of research which has revealed that while GDP has dramatically increased in the last 30 years, we have not been getting happier. Happiness is still the goal, but there is a growing realisation that the path we are on will not get us there.

In many ways, the emerging public conversation brings with it a more generous approach to religion. ‘Well-being’ as a concept certainly can in theory acknowledge the important place of religion in society, at least much more than a purely financial metric. Though this shift should be cautiously welcomed, one of the key contributions that Christian thought and practice can make is to call into question the dominant assumption that happiness is the goal. The crucial conversation is not about means (how we get there) but about ends (what we should be aiming for).

The church’s prophetic witness is to testify to our true ‘end’, memorably summed up in the Westminster Catechism – ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever’. Happiness – or the richer word ‘joy’ – is found in and through God, partially in this life and fully in the life to come. In the words of Augustine, ‘God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.’

To pursue happiness as an end in itself is to condemn oneself to a life without rest. It is a life in the image of Wile E. Coyote in his never-ending pursuit of the Road Runner – always chasing, but never catching.