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The Roscoe Lecture: 'Liverpool, a city where religious faith is part of the solution, not the problem.'

Monday 9th June 2008

Speech by The Archbishop Of York, Dr John Sentamu, at St. George's Hall, Liverpool.

'Liverpool, a city where religious faith is part of the solution, not the problem.'

It is a great pleasure to be with you in Liverpool during your year as European city of Culture and to join in this series of lectures named after William Roscoe.

It is near on impossible to come to such a city of pedigree both in terms of musical and sporting talent and not mention football. I should at this point declare an interest. As Patron of York City Football Club, I still hear stories of the great FA Cup runs enjoyed by York City over the years, not least in 1985 when having defeated the mighty Arsenal in the fourth round, lowly York City managed a draw against a Liverpool team boasting the likes of Kenny Dalgleish, Ian Rush and Alan Hansen. York were, by all accounts, unlucky not to win.

Their visit to Liverpool for the replay, however, proved to be a sobering affair where the Minster Men were thrashed 7-0 at Anfield in the replay.

I feel it is my duty as Patron of the club to bring some payback tonight, so expect a talk of least three hours, with none of you getting home before midnight! The choice is yours. Leave now or stay for the next three hours!

My passion for football began as a young boy, when another team that shall remain nameless - let us just say they play in Red and is based a few miles away in a city in Lancashire - came on a tour of my home country of Uganda. It was a delight as a young boy to see those players and watch them play. But Football was not my only passion as a young boy.

I became a Christian as a young boy in Uganda, and since then have been doing my best to follow Jesus Christ. I don't claim any authority to speak on behalf of people of other faiths – but what I hope to do in this lecture is to defend their right to believe and to practice their faith, and whenever we can agree to cooperate with each other for the common good – I want to be there. We have a responsibility as people who believe in God – that we are creaturely made - to stand together to resist the ever increasing pressure of an individualised consumerism which eats away at the souls of all. We need to bend all our God-given gifts to love God and to serve our neighbours implicitly.

I am reminded of a story of a boy who stood on the edge of the Liverpool docks and smelled the sweet odour of molasses as they were off-loaded from a slave ship. He yearned for a taste. As the crane off-loaded one sack, it burst and the boy was covered in molasses from head to toe. A voice was heard saying, "Lord, give me a tongue worthy of the task". Mine perhaps is one of "Lord, give me a tongue worthy of your praise!"

Why? Because I am sure there are plenty of people working to ensure that the economic outcomes of this city's year of culture are successful and long term. Surely though Liverpool's year as city of culture is more than this: I hope it will be a time for rediscovering shared values, and articulating what it is to be human, and to live in community. Are we as human beings merely defined by our capacity to produce or consume, or are we indeed made in the image of God, with a high calling, and a great destiny?

In the diocese of York we spent much of last year, the bicentenary year of the Act which abolished the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, celebrating William Wilberforce, our own local hero of the struggle. So I am glad to be reminded today of one of Wilberforce's friends and allies. Here in Liverpool William Roscoe played his part, both politically as a Member of Parliament and imaginatively in his writings, in the fight for the abolition of the slave trade that had built the wealth of his own city. For Roscoe, dependent upon the votes of his constituents in this city made wealthy by the slave trade, it was a crisis of conscience – humanity and justice versus market forces.

As Lord Alton has said, "In parliament Roscoe trod a fine line between condemning slavery, and standing with his constituents in Liverpool who stood to lose financially from its abolition – but he made no secret of his heart's desire: in his February 23rd speech in the Commons Roscoe concluded:

'I have long resided in the town of Liverpool; for 30 years I have never ceased to condemn this inhuman traffic; and I consider it the greatest happiness of my existence to lift up my voice on this occasion against it, with the friends of justice and humanity.'

Roscoe's boldness in sticking to his principles despite the disapproval of his constituents arose from his faith in a moral universe accountable to a living God. In his poem, 'The Wrongs of Africa' he had written:

'Forget not, Britain, higher still than thee

Sits the Judge of Nations, who can weigh

The wrong and can repay'

Like most other abolitionists, Roscoe was motivated by a sense of justice rooted in the Biblical tradition. He was one of the few for whom Liverpool's early experience of globalisation brought home the uncomfortable reality that what brought wealth to neighbours near to hand brought pain to neighbours far afield. When asked 'Who is my neighbour?' Jesus of Nazareth had told the story of the a Samaritan – of how priest and Levite passed by on the other side when they found an injured man by the road, leaving it to the non-belonger and the doctrinally unsound and ceremonially and ethnically unclean – for he ate non-Kosher foods - to come to the rescue.

So it grates with me that in other respects Roscoe wasn't batting for my team – he was not a member of the Church of England, but a dissenter, as it were one of the Samaritans of his day. But it grates even more that in 1833 a Church of England Mission Society, USPG in Barbados found no difficulty in accepting a massive sum in compensation for the financial losses it had sustained due to the abolition of slavery, albeit it handed the Codrington Estate to the Anglican Church of Barbados – which built a theological college there. And the then Bishop of Exeter and his business partners received an even larger sum.

It is no wonder that at various stages good people of religious faith and of no religious faith have chosen to wash their hands of organised religion.

It has not been difficult for the secularists to find ammunition against us – historically we have left behind too much moral debris. The Crusades and inquisition of the past are part of our uncomfortable history, and the part faith has played in more recent wars and acts of terror around the globe cause many to believe that religion is inherently dangerous if not essentially destructive. But are we to lie down and roll over, and say the game is up? I think not.

Here in Liverpool you have been amassing a strong evidence base for the effectiveness of the engagement of the Churches with urban regeneration and civil society. You have been proving that people who believe in God can be relied upon to be part of the solution to the ills of the world.

For me, organised religion is ambiguous. It can be a source of great good or great evil. Why? Because it is made up of human beings. You and I. And should you be tempted to think that we in the Church are a bunch of hypocrites, I have good news for you. There is room for you too!

Of course we are all part of the problem too – in the Christian tradition we call that 'sin'. Love that has turned on to itself and away from the source and giver of love. But we believe in grace, the power of God's love to transform individual lives and whole communities through the inspiring, energising, guiding, and activating work of the Holy Spirit, at work in all God's creation, but given especially to those who call upon God's name.

In Liverpool you have been demonstrating, over the years, from the days of Roscoe and before and continuing in so many ways today, that people who have a faith in God have a particular propensity to devote themselves to the common good, and that they have the ability, because of their trust and obedience, to 'move mountains' and make a difference, especially for the world's poor. The Christian faith seeks to learn from the past, from its successes and from its failures, but never to be dominated by it. 'Semper Reformandum' – always capable of being reformed, being renewed. We look to the Spirit of God to lead us into the future with hope.

Today a report has been published on Government, Church, and the Future of Welfare by the Von Hűgel Institute, under the title 'Moral, but no Compass'. Critical as it is of the government's perceived failure to understand either the actual or the potential contribution of people of religious faith and their communities, I welcome this report, because it gives some strong clues both to church and to Government as to how to work better together for the sake of justice and human wellbeing in this country.

The report, commissioned by the Bishop of Hulme, - a Church of England Bishop for Urban Mission - to be offered to the Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, appeals to the Government to engage in evidence based research into the level of public benefit which arises from religious faith-based engagement both in local communities and in the life of the nation. I am sure the report is largely right in its diagnosis. It will take some time for us to consider its recommendations. If the government were to take time to quantify the contribution the churches and other religious faith groups make to urban regeneration, and to engage with qualitative study of the 'added value' brought to civic life by the churches and other faith groups, they would learn to maximise the benefit of the religious sector's civic contribution in general and of the Churches – and the Church of England, in particular. The report itself begins this task.

It is a remarkable report

"On the one hand it reveals a depressing level of misunderstanding of the scale and quality of contribution religious faith-based organisations make to the civil and civic life of our nation - our common good. This is particularly true in relation to the contribution of the Church of England, and its membership, on which the report focuses.

On the other hand it highlights and details some truly remarkable examples of public good delivered by the Church and religious faith based organisations - sometimes funded by the state, though mostly not - and a general picture of committed social engagement which if grasped imaginatively by the state could, indeed would, yield some extraordinarily positive results,

"In short, this report urges the Church, government and others, notably the Charity Commissioners, to sit up, take note and to better understand each others roles and intentions in order to make the most of one of this nation's most diverse, creative and enduring assets – the Church..

"We all need to consider very seriously the report's recommendations and take appropriate action - for our, and the nation's common good.

It is as if secularist rhetoric had asked the question – 'Well what have the churches done for us? - just as in Monty Python's life of Brian a freedom fighter asked the same question about the Romans in first century Palestine.

Schools? - Well what have the churches done for this country apart from found schools?

Universities? Well, what have the churches done for this country apart from found schools and universities...

Hospitals? Well, apart from schools, universities and hospitals, what have the churches done for us? The list goes on....

The Von Hűgel report says:

'In the UK one can find the following, which have been founded, inspired, and run by the Church of England and other Christian denominations:

· Cooperatives

· Universities

· Housing Associations

· Schools

· Building Societies

· Common Investment Funds

· Industrial and provident and friendly societies

· Benevolent Societies

· Museums

· Informal Community Organisations

· Parent Teachers Associations

· Credit Unions'

And yet religious groups rarely get credited with this work. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations lists all those groups I have just mentioned, but does not acknowledge the vital religious dimension underpinning their work. More explicitly religious groups are listed as 'other' – as if it were possible to separate religious based service from religious, trust and obedience itself.

To this long list one should add the fact that both Liverpool and Everton Football clubs owe their origin to a Christian minister from St Domingo Methodist Chapel.

And let's not forget my distinguished predecessor as a Roscoe Lecturer – Ken Dodd – whose first public performance was in Knottyash Church Choir.

The full extent of religious inspired voluntary sector engagement is further clouded by the Charity Commission, in choosing to separate 'advancement of religion' from 'public benefit'.

Charities such as Church Action on Poverty, Housing Justice, Methodist Homes for the Aged, and the St Vincent de Paul Society – and Islamic Relief – despite their expressed ethos, constituencies and titles, do not count for the Charity Commission as religious charities, because they do not count 'advancing religion' in their objects. Do not they understand that justice is the practical outworking of belief in God? As Ephrem of Syria, Deacon, Hymn Writer, Teacher of the faith, who lived in 373 AD, said in his hymn:

Truth and love are wings that cannot be separated,

for truth without love is unable to fly,

so too love without truth is unable to soar up:

their yoke is one of harmony.

The upshot of separating "advancement of religion" from "public benefit" is exactly the opposite of what is intended. Whilst little research is done into the mainstream churches and their community engagement, in the current climate Islamic groups are subjected to close scrutiny. So whilst a minority religious groups are subjected to over intrusive monitoring, the majority have cause to complain that their activities are not well enough known to the government.

Across the board, both local and national government are being misled as to the extent and as to the significance of the churches' engagement with creating and sustaining communities.

This is particularly marked in the case of Cathedrals. The report asserts that, quite apart from their spiritual, cultural, and educational benefits to the community they contribute significantly to the national economy. Apparently between them Church of England Cathedrals alone provide directly and indirectly for 5,450 jobs nationally. Somewhat tangentially the report points out this is roughly the same number of people currently employed by Ryanair.

At this time of turbulence in the Church of England we are, of course, fastening our seatbelts. Though while the church nationally – and internationally - may be buffeted to and fro, causing no small alarm, the basis of our common life in the parishes, towns, and cities of this country goes on from week to week, a steady pattern of worship and service, of day to day engagement with real-life people and situations. My experience of Liverpudlians is that they may be dreamers but they are also grounded people. So here is religious faith that rolls up its sleeves and gets to work.

The landscape of this city is in so many ways defined by its two Cathedrals, linked by Hope Street. What a wonderful monument you have built down that road, just unveiled a few weeks ago, to the memory of your two Bishops – David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock. As well as being a tribute to the healing and reconciling work they did, as friends and brothers in Christ, to galvanise the churches in this city into cooperation and effective transforming involvement with the regeneration of the life of the city, the statue inspires visitors to look, and to walk through doors – one way to the Anglican Cathedral, there on the hill, and the other to 'Paddy's Wigwam'. Each building in its different architecture testifies to the character both of God and of his people here in Liverpool. The Anglican Cathedral speaks of the grandeur, the mystery, and the unchanging power and authority of God. It says, God is Great! it sings 'Glory to God, in the highest!' The Roman Catholic Cathedral, inspired by the liturgical renewal mandated by the Second Vatican Council, says, God is in the midst of us, and here we are, his people : 'Peace to his people on earth'.

This message – of the glory of God and of peace on earth – gives inspiration to far more Liverpudlians than are seen in church on a Sunday. Part of the landscape of this city, along with the other fine buildings of this place, the Cathedrals help to define what makes this place home to its people. It is not just what the church does, nor what it achieves, nor what it says that marks out its place in our national or civic life - it is the witness it gives to transcendence and particularity, to the glory of God reflected in human relationship. So your two cathedrals press home their message – God is great and is to be praised – and we are his people, called together to make a difference in his name.

The jury is out then, as to whether people of religious faith are actually doing this.

As Nick Spencer's recent examination of the role of Christianity in Britain today concludes, 'Ultimately, the role of Christianity in the public square of twenty-first century

Britain will depend on the extent to which, by doing what it must do, it can persuade the public that it is "doing good"'.

In Liverpool there are plenty of examples of churches and other religious faith groups making a positive difference to their communities – but nowhere is that different more widely appreciated as being of public benefit than in your overwhelmingly popular church schools.

Disarming critics of religious schools – wrongly described, by those who ought to know better, as "faith schools" - who regard them as socially divisive, your joint Anglican/Roman Catholic Academies, with their vision for serving all local young people rather than simply providing education for those from within the religious communities, are showing there is a place for a grounded Christian faith at the heart of a diverse civic life. With their emphasis on our stewardship of the natural world, the St Francis Academy and the joint proposal with Liverpool Hope University for the Newton Academy are breaking new ground. The new buildings at St Francis' Academy tell their own story: pupils at the school will enjoy natural warmth even in midwinter in their solar atrium – but it is the impact of the experience of a transformed learning environment which is most impressive. Last year it was reported,

'The effects of this new environment on pupils, in a district that is one of the usual suspects when social-deprivation indicators are trotted out, have been extraordinary. Earlier this year, St Francis came top of the Government's CVA (Contextual Value Added) league table - a new-style table that shows which schools have done the most to improve their pupils' education. The GCSE, A*-C pass rate improved from 26 per cent to 40 per cent.

Critics of the Academies programme will say it is not surprising that standards improve when extra resources are brought in, and will complain about the lack of a level playing field for schools. We should all want to see more and more opportunities for children, especially for children in areas of deprivation. We should want to see hope break out in surprising places. I therefore rejoice that the church is rising to this challenge, in this city and elsewhere.

At one level the church is simply seeking to meet the need expressed by so many parents who see the advantages of schools with an ethos rooted in Christian values. In my office, at Bishopthorpe, we shall shortly be appointing an administrator for the National Society's Academies programme in the Province of York. The National Society, which in the nineteenth century was responsible both for getting previously unschooled children into new, church founded schools throughout the country, is now at the forefront of this initiative to raise aspirations and standards, especially in areas of social and economic need.

I know it is a contentious issue locally, but I commend the diocese of Liverpool in seeking to revive the Church of England foundation of the city's highly successful Bluecoat School. Founded in 1708 by the Rector of Liverpool, Robert Styth, and his friend Brian Blundell, master mariner, the school, founded on Christian principles for the benefit of the poor of the city, boasts the motto, 'non sibi, sed omnibus', (not for oneself, but for all.) Of course the diocese will respect the Secretary of State's verdict on this matter– but it seems to me the School has much to gain and nothing to lose by being designated a Church of England School. I can appreciate the natural concerns of parents and governors, who know their school is already excellent, and who may fear change. They may have heard of church schools in cities other than Liverpool which restrict admissions to church members. I am proud of the commitment of the Diocese of Liverpool that church schools should above all be community schools. Liverpool Bluecoat need not change in character to be designated a Church of England School – but it can be enriched by added support for the religious aspects of the Curriculum, to which it has always been committed from its own foundation.

The debate over church and other religious schools takes place in the often unspoken but surely decisive context of overwhelming public support for such schools. The fact that parents queue up to send their children to church schools, with some parents with no religious faith even being willing to attend worship in order to get their children accepted, surely points towards popular approval of what it is that church schools stand for. That popular approval is not available in other areas of the churches' engagement with communities. For instance the public does not tend to get a chance to vote on the success or desirability of religious-based organisations' debt counselling or drug rehabilitation schemes.

And yet these initiatives are bringing hope to individuals and families all over the country. The Von Hugel report published today is a welcome reminder of just how much welfare work depends on people of religious faith.

Liverpool today, like the rest of the country, is a delightfully colourful place, with a larger variety of cultures and religions present than ever before. So it is especially good to hear of ways in which people of different religious faiths have joined forces to work on together for the common good.

'Faiths4change' is working right across the North West of England under the slogan 'helping to grow communities'. Quite apart from the clear benefit of developing more sustainable community buildings, of making the most of the green spaces in our towns and cities, and encouraging people to grow their own food locally, the model of a task-oriented partnership of various religious faith groups is good news in itself. Some things are best done together.

But there should be no compulsion: we don't have to do everything together. Churches and other religious groups should be free each to make their own contribution, in their own way, to the common good. Even if a far smaller percentage are actually in church on a Sunday, if 72% or the population of the UK claim to be Christian, then it is to be expected that the majority of religious faith based community and welfare work will be Christian. If local or national government find themselves engaging more with churches than with other faith groups, they should not be embarrassed. As long as the there is genuine hospitality and mutual recognition, and as long as Christian work is done with Christ-like humility and respect for those who are different, then the Churches can work effectively alongside others, making their contribution openly and fairly. There was a time when religious faith groups seemed to be competing for slices of the regeneration funding cake. I hope that we can get beyond this, to a situation where decisions can be made at a much more local level, on the basis of relationships built up between different groups, guided by local and multilaterally agreed priorities. And these must surely be priorities of service, responsibility, freedom, liberty, mutual respect and generous sharing.

In Stepney and in Birmingham it was my pleasure often to meet with my Muslim friends, to share meals and conversation together: we all shared hospitality, friendship, and respect.

Given the current anxieties over levels of gang culture, and of the carrying of guns and knives by teenagers, this is surely an area which would benefit from more cross-community partnership. Perhaps then the vision of the seven and eight year old children of Croxteth Primary School would have more chance of coming true:

'If we had the power

Gangs do not care

Their bullets everywhere

We feel so scared at night

The guns give us a fright.

Illegal fighting dogs scare us

Gangs throw bricks at our bus

Needles of death in our street

Dropped by pale selfish people we meet.

If we had the power

We would grow the biggest flower

We could make a change

And rearrange the bad for the good.

Kind people in new parks

Friendly dogs with quiet barks

Having fun in the sun

If we try....all this can be done!'

Please stand and join me in remembering Rhys Jones, brutally murdered on his way home, in the Hope for Change expressed those children from Croxteth Primary School. Rest eternal grant unto Rhys Jones. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The recent tragic murders and violence linked to gangs, knives and guns has led to initiatives and action plans from all quarters of Government. We all know that there is a problem; John Pitts in the Guardian last week says it all boils down to money – I disagree. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that poverty and lack of access to opportunity is a major cause of the problem, the reason young people are carrying knives is far more complex than this.

It is always easy to blame someone else, but it takes people working together from a variety of perspectives to engage with an issue as complex as this. And churches and other religious communities are already making a huge difference in some of our cities.

Passing harsher laws will not lead to changes in behaviour. My work with ex-gang leaders has taught me this vial lesson. The problem is not with guns or knives. It is one of motive. I have been told that those who use guns or knives have no respect for themselves and their victims and are not afraid to use guns or knives. WE have to change the motives and the feelings that violent young people have about themselves and their community. They are rootless.

Part of the problem is the muddle that the Government has found itself in when dealing with issue of what it calls 'faith groups'.

The approach that it has too often favoured has been a well intentioned but muddled syncretism that treats all religious faiths as if they were the same. This has blinded the Government to the worth of what is actually being carried out by those groups whose values are rooted in the soil of their religion.

If we are to be serious in tackling the challenges presented by gangs, guns and knives we need to examine and support those initiatives that have succeeded and where religious faith has played a major role, rather than minimising the role of belief and trust in God in transforming lives and communities.

The government, police and others who want to challenge the culture of guns, knives and gangs need to recognise the power of the Gospel and how the Christian faith has brought people out of gun crime, drugs and violence and into a place of hope, transformed by faith Jesus Christ. There is a need to look beyond the traditional, reactive, punitive and retributive policies and to look instead at those lives that have been transformed. In my time in Birmingham I was part of the setting up of 'Bringing Hope' – a wonderful initiative making a difference in this area.

In 1991 the 'Damascus Road Principle' became a reality in the life of a 24-year-old man who had grown up in the hard-core environment of the 'street life' code. His life reflected the lived experience, which many young people are dealing with at this present time.

He experienced 15 years of drug abuse

From the age of 13 he was permanently excluded from all schools in his city.

He became involved in various levels of criminality and

Participated in early gang related activity and crime.

Fifteen years later, following what we have called the 'Damascus experience' this person is a Founding member of 'Bringing Hope'. He achieved an MBA in 2006.

Then there is the young man who had grown up in an environment of guns, drugs, knives and gangs but did not see himself as a gang member. He never had a father so lacked a role model and was living with his grandmother who was not fully aware of the pressurised environment that was engulfing him.

At 18, he got caught up in fight.

A knife was pulled on him. He was handed a baseball bat, which he used, killing his opponent. The next day he was arrested and charged with murder. Just before his trial one of the chaplains from the prison spoke to him, challenging his lifestyle and he had a serious think.

After a couple of weeks he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. One evening on his own, he looked at himself and what he had done, the words of the chaplain came back to him and this brought him to his "Damascus Road" experience.

Because of this change in attitude, he conducted himself well in prison and is now in an open prison where he can work. He got married, bought a house and was released late last year.

Even in prison he was able to speak to young people and youth groups about his regrets and subsequent transformation.

Whether through training peer mentors, social entrepreneurship schemes to offer alternatives to destructive lifestyles, or through an approach that puts public and social health alongside or even before crime control and community safety agendas, the work of these groups is bearing fruit. People can change, but they need the inspiration to do so. As a Christian I have seen no greater power to change lives than the presence of the Spirit of God, and through an encounter with Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection.

For me the heart of the matter is the transformation that is made possible in human lives and in communities by the outpouring of the Spirit of God, the same Spirit who anointed Jesus of Nazareth for his work. In the synagogue at Capernaum Jesus is reading to those gathered from the book of the Prophet Isaiah:

'The Lord's Sprit has come to me

because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor.

The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners,

to give sight to the blind,

to free everyone who suffers;

and to say, 'This is the year the Lord has chosen'."

Many times and in many ways since the days of Roscoe people of faith in God in this city have given themselves to Jesus' agenda for change.

They have been inspired by the Spirit of God. I can only invite all people, believers or not, to embrace this same agenda. It is an agenda for liberation, for healing, for empowerment, for change. It is an agenda for the common good.

Yes! Liverpool is a City where Religious Faith is Part of the Solution, not the Problem!

Thank you for listening.

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