Bishop of Rochester highlights work of faiths in promoting community cohesion

On 26th November 2015 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Mobarik: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the attacks in Paris on 13 November, what steps they plan to take to foster links between communities, as part of their counterterrorism strategy.” The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd James Langstaff, spoke in the debate:


RochesterThe Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, for initiating the debate and for the opportunity to speak in it. I am grateful, too, to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, for saying some of the things about Near Neighbours that I might have said. That will save me having to do it. It is good to have other advocates of these things.

The point has been made already, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the important issues raised in the debate, although perhaps prompted by part of the current world situation, have been there for many generations. Many of us have been working away at them for a good many years. None the less, one of the strands in the Government’s counterterrorism strategy, published last month, has been the building and strengthening of community links within and between communities. It is a very important strand that clearly builds on things that many of us have been involved in before. In many ways it is the most difficult strand, because it requires perseverance and hard work over many years. It requires commitment in local communities and all the things that lead to fruitful engagement.

This is an area of life in which the language of religious faith and identity are often used, even when, as has been pointed out already, the connection with any true religion is somewhat tenuous at best. The rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, commented on this very cogently in his recent book Not in God’s Name, which I commend to noble Lords if they have time to read it. Religious beliefs may, in some cases, be stated as givens, but religious practice, including what we might call deviant religious practice, is actually nurtured within our communities—in families, in neighbourhoods and in other settings. Therefore, as has already been said, it is this local work in communities and neighbourhoods that is key in dealing with this dimension of these issues.

As we know, the challenges are significant: issues of segregation and separation, not least in some of our cities, are still there, with the need to break down barriers of mistrust. There are some very real issues of leadership capacity in some of our communities. That is an area where investment, not so much of money but of training and development and those kinds of things, could reap benefits; it already does in some instances. Particular attention has already been given to the invidious position in which some of the leaders of our Muslim communities are put at times. Proper support and development of the skills of leaders such as those is important.

I do not think that anyone has yet mentioned the particular issues around young people. Again, that is clearly something of huge importance. Investment in that, not just of money but of time and attention at the local level, is very important in addressing the matters before us.

These issues are tackled most fruitfully and effectively at local levels, where time and commitment can be given to building trust, often over generations as people live alongside one another and as they get to know one another. The Near Neighbours initiative, to which the noble Baroness has already referred, is one such example which the Church of England has been pleased to sponsor through the Church Urban Fund and which would welcome support from the Government. That initiative is having an effect in many different places in the country; some examples of its work have already been given.

I will also mention the work of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Birmingham, who has taken the initiative to convene regular conversations between the leading faith leaders in the city of Birmingham. Clearly, that is a city where that kind of work is really important. I worked there myself for 18 years and it is close to my heart.

We on these Benches assure this House of our continuing commitment to work for the building of trust, understanding and practical collaboration within and between communities throughout our land. We will play our continuing part in building strong communities between people of different faiths and backgrounds.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport and Home Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): [extract]…The right reverend Prelate talked about the excellent work being done in Birmingham, which I have seen first-hand. I have seen that at the Joseph Interfaith Foundation.