Three new reports on partnership working between faith and local government.

Guest Blog: Derek Markie on Sharing Faith

Following graduation from University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology in 1970, Derek Markie pursued an engineering and management path for 20 years with 6 years at director level. In public life, he has had leading roles in local churches and voluntary organisations, and represented faith, public, and commercial groups to government at every level.

Derek is a FaithAction partner across the Midlands and can be contacted at [email protected]. More of his work can be found at http://www.emcf.org.uk/.

If we don’t share faith, how can we work together to bring faith’s contribution?

Like many who will be reading this, my faith is the most important thing in my life and the prime motivator for my efforts to serve others and our society.  But in a world of many faiths where, for some, faith appears to be one of society’s problems, and for many more, it is declared meaningless, how do we justify our approach?  What justifies FaithAction or others working in the faith-motivated social action “sector”?  If my faith is so special, how can I ally with those of other faiths and what “unholy” compromises must I swallow?

I suspect I am not the only one who has faced these questions, but I suspect, like many, I have let myself off with answers that are just window dressing, rather than a deeper resolution required if this sector is to flourish.  So let me attempt some answers and invite comment from others in the belief that we should agree the situation with one another.  To fail to do so risks us proceeding blissfully blinkered, until a fundamental problem emerges and wrecks our endeavours.  I believe the answer is important, too, for our various co-religionists who currently treat all joint or inter-faith working with suspicion and are not motivated to co-operate across faiths.  I believe it is important also to declare once and for all to those who would wish it to be so: I do not believe we are taking the first tentative steps on a set of convergent paths – but we are learning better how to live together.

Perhaps it is best if I declare my position: I am a Christian from a broadly evangelical tradition and have progressed slowly to the point of view I now hold.  But whilst I would continue to set boundaries for co-operation, I would totally endorse the idea of maximising it.  The degree will vary. The closer the relationship of faith traditions, the less will be the limitations. I will be able to do more with fellow Baptists, and other Christians, than a wider group of mono-theists, and again more with them than with pan-theists, pagans or those holding atheistic belief sets.  But I can do more with any of these than I can with those who are driven only by hedonism or purely economic determinism.

Our various faiths set a priority on created order, shared environment, common humanity, and, (apart from, perhaps, the most puritanical or fundamentalist extents of each of our faiths), the socially or culturally discerned limits of selfish expression that is public law and morality.  Even those basics give us a lingua franca for working together for a common good, and raising concerns in an eternal context.  For others outside of faith, many will claim to agree and travel with us, others will recognise a pragmatic value in our efforts and support us, but only those of faith or declared equivalent beliefs as prime motor will sustain equivalent effort, ethic and altruistic commitment.

The limits to co-operation will inevitably occur in two areas – celebration and canvassing.  I can celebrate with others in the Olympics or with my neighbours at a street party, but for me the most meaningful celebration is when I can praise my God for what is happening, and to do that with others, we need to share a closer understanding of God.  I have worked with others on sharing art and music but even here there is a risk of confusion in my mind – do I share the same thoughts as others during Handel’s Messiah? – is participation in or attendance at a performance a declaration of truth in what is viewed or sung? – is the interpretation only in the mind of the beholder?  At this point. my passion for collaboration finds its limits, and yet, as long as my inner thoughts are not compromised or my actions mis-perceived, I can share the moment with all and sundry.

Canvassing – or more overt evangelism on behalf of “faiths” – is equally fraught.  I can say to someone, as a direct sequitur to this article, that I believe living by a faith opens up a fuller life.  But I would be a liar if I suggested any faith would do, or that all faiths are equally valid, when I actually believe some to be blind alleys.  I would be loathe even to suggest any faith is better than none, because I fear that some false lines would reduce the likelihood of someone finding what I believe to be the truth.  So I would have to think very hard before agreeing to work for a group who wanted to “promote faith”.  More widely, I find it hard to argue even this case without drawing on the unique insights of my own faith.

So much for a basis for co-operation; but what happens when our faith ambitions collide?  It is common to hear the argument, often referencing the turmoil of the Middle-East or Ulster, that religion is the problem.  I have to say that it has never been my experience and I would argue that unconstrained human passion is the problem, whether inspired by religion, romance, ambition or whatever.  It is passion for what we desire or believe in which maximises our motivation and, if unleashed, can also blind us to the very things our actions then place at risk.  Religious wars have been some of the most cruel; crimes of passion have even been partially condoned in some judiciaries on the basis that to do otherwise would be to limit a life-force.  Our own society is facing massive moral turmoil as we at last promote individual rights above long-tolerated norms and social hierarchies in regard to sexual exploitation.  Meanwhile, at the rational and ethical end of justice, I suspect for each of us there is another line that could be crossed.  There is a point where our faith would demand the breaking of law, and we would assert the law of God as we see it, knowing full well that we must then accept the judicial consequences.

So, what is the basis for our co-operation across faiths?  Surely, it is the shared view that we add a dimension to society, motivation, meaning, art… indeed to life, the universe, and everything… that very few would ultimately argue should be excluded.  We raise both the ethical and relational qualities of debate and the humanity of practice.  But we must beware.  As soon as we begin to limit our own freedom to express the truths that motivate us individually, we risk a compromise too far that would make hypocrites of us all.  To suppress those of others risks denying our common humanity.

We may not agree what the truth is… but we probably agree that it is the truth that makes us free.