- Now the talking really begins
Pope Francis wanted frankness and openness and that is what he got. But there is also the sense that the real debate in the Church about marriage and families is only just starting
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Former chairman of the Conservative Party Baroness Warsi told a conference at the Churchill Archives in the University of Cambridge that “the Coalition is the most pro-faith government in the West” – a claim disputed by Labour’s Vice Chairman for Faith Groups, Stephen Timms.
Lady Warsi said previous Conservative governments such as those of Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher had considered faith as an essential part of government and Lady Thatcher had regarded “politics as second to Christianity in defining society”.
She added that Churchill and Thatcher would have welcomed the Coalition’s promise to protect the right of town halls to hold prayers and the creation of more faith schools under the Free Schools programme. It had, she went on, ruled out a ban on the full-face veil out of respect for religious liberty and welcomed a ruling that saw a British Airways worker win the right to wear a crucifix at work.
“I know that Mrs Thatcher would have approved of devolving power to faith communities. As she once said: ‘I wonder whether the State services would have done as much for the man who fell among thieves as the Good Samaritan did for him?’
“We see flickers of Churchill’s flame and echoes of Thatcher’s sermons in all we do,” said Lady Warsi. “But this was never inevitable. When we came back into power in 2010, I felt that some of the reverence for religion had disappeared from politics. I found that the last government didn’t just refuse to ‘do God’ – they didn’t get God either.”
But in response Mr Timms, a practising Christian, said: “Very few people in the Churches will recognise her account. Certainly it is not true to claim that faith is at the heart of policy-making. There is lip service at best.”
John Battle, the Catholic former Labour MP who ran the last Government’s inter-faith programme, said: “She [Baroness Warsi] said the last Government didn’t do God – well for 10 years I was working very hard on the inter-faith network and did 800 visits, so I must have been a ghost and not alive during those times.”
Meanwhile Baroness Warsi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Christianity was is in danger of extinction in countries such as Syria and Iraq because of persecution.
In some cases, Christians are targeted for "collective punishment" by local groups in retaliation for what they see as injustices committed by Western powers, she said.
The Foreign Office minister, who will deliver a speech at Georgetown University in Washington tonight outlining her concerns, said she had had "very frank conversations" with ministers in Pakistan, telling them that senior politicians have a duty to speak out against persecution and set a standard for tolerance.
Some 83 per cent of countries have constitutions that guarantee religious freedom, but do not implement these provisions, she said.
Read Baroness Warsi's speech here.