Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Anti-discrimination initiative

I attended the Council's Vision Board meeting this afternoon, reviewing the efforts being made by senior management in local government and statutory bodies to work together with shared strategic aims for the benefit of all citizens and aspects of life in the Borough. It's difficult dry technical stuff to follow on times, but an effort is made to keep an overview on the many and varied components of public life and organisations in response to changing times and circumstances.

Concern for the environment and the need to reduce carbon consumption is one feature slowly infiltrating itself into all agendas, health, transport, education, planning, development. Social inclusion and equality is another. Every organisation will have to react to rapid economic recession in terms of its own plans and budgets, but today, Council Leader Rodney Berman posed the question to the meeting of how responding to the recession might become a key issue for collaborative working and strategic planning. It's a much more difficult matter to address, but surely worthwhile.

Afterwards, I was able to give to the head of S E Wales Environment Agency, John Harrison, a copy of the Church in Wales' new document 'Caring for God's creation' - a Parish Green guide, launched at the September 08 Governing Body meeting, which I received in the post yesterday. Two years ago, I attended a presentation John arranged for faith groups on global warming, challenging us to consider what we have to contribute to debate and action on the subject. It was good to have something both of substance and quality to show him, and he was pleased to take a copy away with him. It's got me wondering what other denominations and faith communities have published by way of advice on green issues to their followers. I might just do a little investigation ....

Also after the meeting, Charles Willie of the Cardiff and Vale coalition for the disabled asked me if I'd be interested in a project he's engaged with on the social inclusion / anti-discrimination agenda. The project is a religious diversity awareness training programme, aimed at all sorts of people who work in public service organisations, addressing commonplace ignorance of other faiths and cultures, and aspects of discrimination rooted in religious issues, which are all too easily overlooked. I was delighted to be asked, and also delighted to think that a matter on which I have had increasing concern in recent years is being tackled in a purposeful way.

Back in the 1980 when institutional racism was first highlighted as an unacknowledged feature of public life in Britain, I recall the emergence of racism awareness training. In my limited experience, the lead was often taken by people with Christian roots. It seems that for this project the driving force, alongside the strong interest of Coalition for the Disabled in the rooting out of discriminatory practices, is the local office of the Scarman Trust, founded by Lord Scarman of blessed memory as a response to the enquiry he chaired into the Brixton and Toxteth riots. Both of these are secular organisations now addressing the issue of the marginalisation of religious communities in public life and attitudes. A fascinating turn of events in the light of my own experience.

The St Paul's riots in Bristol, which preceded both these events, had its own 'enquiry' in the form of a visit from a Parliamentary Select Committee, which achieved little, apart from making St Paul's issues a footnote to other incidents. Social conditions in all three areas were much the same, and took an age to heal and restore after the inquests. For me being Rector of St Paul's Area at that time was a most formative period in earlier ministry, teaching me the importance of engagement between faith communities and institutions of governance. It was not easy then. It still seems difficult today, except that growing diversity of Britain now means that more people rooted in faith communities are either politically active or working in the public sector. Yet somehow there's an inhibiting pressure that leads to a kind of shyness about engaging as people of faith on the full range of public issues - hence the poverty of response to our Spiritual Capital initiative last autumn. Perhaps this shyness is attributable to discriminatory pressures against people of faith. I certainly look forward to learning more about the project, when I meet with its leaders this Friday afternoon.

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