Labour needs to stand up to some faith groups on equality issues

November 20, 2012 1:27 pm

I was at the Labour Women’s Network political conference on Saturday, which was a wholly wonderful experience – it is so unusual to have so many fabulous women speaking and engaging about Labour politics, but one point was raised which I found quite difficult to agree with.

Part of politics is compromise, and engaging with people who you do not agree with all the time. This is something that politicians need to do with faith groups – it is important to have a relationship with people from all areas of the community that you represent, and to be respected by them, but there has to be a line.

We could use the analogy of making a new friend – you begin by finding the things that you agree on, and build up respect. As your relationship grows, you find areas where you disagree, but because you respect that person, you accept them as a friend despite these views. This all applies to Labour politicians and building relationships with faith groups, and were expressed at the LWN conference as something that it is important to do as a means to reach people who traditional campaigning would not reach, and share many moral values with the party.

The question for me is, would I be a friend with someone who thinks my sexuality, or right to access to contraception or abortion is inherently wrong. I would not. Why are making these exceptions seen as not a problem when we deal with faith groups?

I fully accept, that not all faith groups are for example anti-choice or homophobic, but some are, and it is a worry that we are too willing to forgive these views for the fear of the conversation being difficult or awkward.

The Labour party is rightly proud of our record on equality, should we be so willing to ignore the flaws of religious groups because we agree so much on social justice? By all means work together on fighting social injustices, but we have a duty to stand up for our values on equality – women are not second class citizens, nor is homosexuality abhorrent.

We should not be using venues which host ‘gay cure’ events like the Emmanuel Centre. We should not be posing for photographs with church leaders who agree with us on social justice, but spend the rest of their time telling the media that marriage equality would cause a plague of locusts. Labour have to stop being afraid of standing up for our beliefs on equality.

Of course we need to have relationships with religious groups and organisations, but the fear of challenging out-dated or disgusting views has to go. Perhaps an extreme example – I agree with Nick Griffin that school food needs to be improved, but you don’t see me joining him in a campaign for it.

We cannot shy away from the difficult discussions, because taking the easy path is just cheating ourselves. It is easy to work with your local mosque on co-ordinating support for local homeless people – it is not so easy to stand up for your beliefs on equality.

  • http://www.robbiescott.com/ Robbie Scott

    We should also stop segregating at Labour party meetings and
    events for religious and cultural reasons.

    • Jeremy_Preece

      There are always going to be different groupings within the Labour Party who wish to meet up. Many of these are people who have joined the Labour Party because of their beliefe in social justice. I would include myself in that group. However I am hoping that what you really mean by this comment is that you are a truely tollerant person who wishes to see Christians of various denominations, Muslims, practicing Jews, Hinuds and members of all of the faith groups that make up the UK all equally accepted in the same conference hall as the agnostics and the athiests.
      All of these diverse people are drawn into the broad group that is the Labour Party because they are united in the goals of the party in building a Britain that is fair, that fights for equal opportunity for all (regardless of background), and that wants to see that no group is marginalised, that fights poverty and so on.

      That by the way is my vision of what the Labour Party should be.

  • NT86

    Keep all religion (with no exception) out of politics full stop. I’m not even a militant Dawkins type, but the state should not provide any platform or subsidy for religious groups. They should do it with their own money and keep it a personal matter. While I’m sure that there are many religious individuals who have been able to reconcile their beliefs with socially liberal issues like supporting equality for women and homosexuals, there’s still a lot of ground to be covered.

    • Jeremy_Preece

      This was exactly the view enshrined into the constitution of the Third Riech.
      The fact is that there are many views out there, and your secular view is but one.
      Many here seem to feel that they dislike any religious views since they see religious people as those who beleive themselves to be in the right. However the secularists are exactly the same insofar as they beleive that only their views may be expressed in public life while those of any religious group are inferior. Pot – kettle and black are words that sping to mind

      • NT86

        I’ll engage with them when they knock off the rampant misogyny and homophobia. How in a liberal society is it OK to hold those views? Granted some religions in practise are worse than others in this respect but it is 2012, not 1750. I daresay more recent immigrant communities form the rump of these dated views as the CofE seems to be going in the right direction at least.

        I won’t name any communities as it’s quite obvious who mains ones are, but let’s just say the failures of multiculturalism and the unquestioning nature of political correctness has prevented British people from reasonably criticising some of their beliefs.

        • Jeremy_Preece

          Right, so you are saying that members of church who follow 2000 year old teaching must either leave their faith or tear up the bits that you don’t like, because you are a Liberal and therefore have appointed yourself as superior. Get real.

          • Monkey_Bach

            Eeek. Why should the State support and therefore encourage religion? And if it chooses to do so shouldn’t it extend such support to all and every belief system? Including Satanism, Scientology, Druidry, Witchcraft, Spiritualism, modern occult movements which choose to revive worship of Roman, Greek or Egyptian deities… and so on… and so forth ad infinitum? How can you have a list of state approved beliefs eligible for state help and refuse to extend equal help to any that don’t appear on it? Eeek. Fair dos. Every citizen should have the right to believe any nonsense that they care to. Eeek.

          • NT86

            I didn’t even mention church in any my post, you are simply projecting. I suggested that members of certain religions (we know which one especially) are worse when it comes to tolerance of issues that are outside their comfort zone.

          • JoeDM

            Politics should not be based on ritual superstition.

            Religion + Politics = Social Poison

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

        It remains the French way of doing things, and it is preferable to ours.

  • http://twitter.com/ytfcbadger Martin Baker

    Agree entirely. I felt that Ken Livingstone tied himself up in knots by being willing to seek photo opportunities with various religious people on the basis that it would win favour within those communities, often on racial ground, that in doing so he appeared to be condoning their homophobic views as well. I’m sure he wasn’t, but that was the appearance that it gave. The Labour Party should stand up for what it believes in. If it happens to, by coincidence, align itself with another separate group then that’s good, and they can work together, but the starting point should be its own principles of equality in the first instance.

  • http://twitter.com/johnringer John Ringer

    I don’t completely disagree, Kirstin, but you’re vague about what concrete measures you’d like the party to take. Is there a specific group that we’re affiliated with that prompted you to write this piece?

    Also, is there room for compromise on this principle when it serves a higher goal?

    I’ll speak about the Muslim community, because a plurality of my constituency (and the majority of my neighbourhood) is Muslim.

    Should we work with Muslim groups who oppose same-sex marriage, or do not allow women to become imams, or who require women and men to sit separately for prayers (i.e. almost all of them) in order to stand up to the EDL’s racism? Or should we boycott mosque-led anti-fascist protests on LGBT and/or women’s rights grounds? I am genuinely curious as to where you propose drawing the line on this.

    In my (admittedly straight, white male) view, we might have to ‘agree to disagree’ on certain points in order to engage properly with the Muslim community. By being engaged we can work to fight for common causes (anti-poverty, anti-racism, housing, crime…etc) and also steer the discussion around equalities in a more positive direction. I worry that if Labour turns its back completely on the Muslim community, we’d simply leave a vacuum that can be filled by people like George Galloway (and we all know his views on women’s issues…)

  • http://twitter.com/johnringer John Ringer

    I don’t completely disagree, Kirstin, but you’re vague about what concrete measures you’d like the party to take. Is there a specific group that we’re affiliated with that prompted you to write this piece?

    Also, is there room for compromise on this principle when it serves a higher goal?

    I’ll speak about the Muslim community, because a plurality of my constituency (and the majority of my neighbourhood) is Muslim.

    Should we work with Muslim groups who oppose same-sex marriage, or do not allow women to become imams, or who require women and men to sit separately for prayers (i.e. almost all of them) in order to stand up to the EDL’s racism? Or should we boycott mosque-led anti-fascist protests on LGBT and/or women’s rights grounds? I am genuinely curious as to where you propose drawing the line on this.

    In my (admittedly straight, white male) view, we might have to ‘agree to disagree’ on certain points in order to engage properly with the Muslim community. By being engaged we can work to fight for common causes (anti-poverty, anti-racism, housing, crime…etc) and also steer the discussion around equalities in a more positive direction. I worry that if Labour turns its back completely on the Muslim community, we’d simply leave a vacuum that can be filled by people like George Galloway (and we all know his views on women’s issues…)

    • Lewis Johnston

      Sorry this response will be terser and more brief than I’d like, as I do have more to say but have the flu! Just wanted to ask, why is yours a “straight, white male view? I find this pseudo-thoughtful categorising quite tiresome and frankly offensive. I’m a “straight white male” but there is no particular reason I’d be in agreement with another straight white male over a gay black woman or anyone else for that matter. Im an individual, not a faceless representative of my characteristics. In the same way, your arguments (interesting btw, hope to respond further later) are John Ringer’s, not a generic white male’s.

      Whilst this may seem off topic, I think it is relevant to the issues raised in the article, as this kind of identity politics “I am defined by the most easily identifiable political pawn group to which i belong” is a cause of many of the problems identified above.

  • Chilbaldi

    In the end pragmatism gets in the way of what you are proposing. Building links with faith communities is very useful for MPs for example – and a way to reach thousands of constituents.
    Not to mention that many followers of religions do not share that religion’s most extreme views. Let’s not throw our toys out of the pram.

    • Jeremy_Preece

      Just so.

  • Cora

    Interesting article but I would very much like to know what the writer would say to, for example, Catholic voters and Catholic Labour Party members?

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    I would completely support Labour standing up for equality if any particular faith group(s) seem to be hiding away from it. I am a Christian (and of the Holy Roller, Hells, Bells and Smells persuasion), but do see that my faith can and often is seen as nothing more than belief in a fairy-tale. So be it. It does not stop me from supporting women in fair competition to become Bishops in the Church of England (there has been a disastrous outbreak of conservatism today in the House of Laity).

    • rekrab

      Jaime’s pastures go Dan Brown! and did those feet of ancient times spread the greatest gift of all. “life”

    • Monkey_Bach

      Eeek. Worry not cousin. Based on your words and views expressed on this site nobody could ever guess you followed the path of the merciful Christ. Eeek.

    • postageincluded

      Holy rolling combined with “smells and bells”? I don’t know what sect combines both but it clearly needs shutting down just on the basis of the fire-risk.

  • Cora

    My second attempt at leaving a comment…. maybe it’s a Disqus problem. This is an interesting article and makes some interesting points but I wonder what the writer would say to Catholic voters and Catholic members? I would genuinely like to know the answer… voted Labour in every single local national and regional election for thirty years and have been activist and member.

    • http://twitter.com/mrbickley Paul Bickley

      Cora – if you listen to the author it means you’re akin to Nick Griffin and thoroughly unwelcome in the labour party. If there were a reasonable left-of-centre alternative on offer for people like you and me, I suggest we take her at her word. As it is, the task is to ensure that the party stays one with a broad, common good agenda, rather than the deracinated social liberalism that we have in the original post.

      • Cora

        Well, Kirstin has not answered my question. I think that this is irresponsible for a writer on LabourList. It is a very serious question and one which the writer should address, particularly as the term ‘we’ is used a number of times in the article.

        Working-class Catholics were ‘solid Labour’ for decades. The same applies to members of other Christian denominations and of other faiths.

        • RuariJM

          Not only were they ‘solid Labour’, Cora, working-class catholics WERE the Labour Party in quite a few metropolitan areas, such as Liverpool, Birmingham, N London, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, etc, etc – the list goes on. And in other parts of the cities and in S Wales, for example, it would be the Methodists, Baptists and Quakers. “Work together” on social issues, as the writer suggests? How kind!

          How patronising, more like. the church groups invented social justice campaigning and nurtured the Labour movement. What a silly, arrogant metropolitan elitist piece the original post is!

          Grrrrrr!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

    Fully agree with the article.
    The French have this one right – the church separate from the state, and no exemptions. That way the current sorry mess can be avoided – its better for everyone. Fact is that the church is now out of step with majority feeling and the more tied up with the state they are, the more confusing for everyone involved

    I have no problem with churches who provide services just like any other group. They have to provide them across the board according to the equality legislation. But they should have no special rights or exemptions. And we should be steadfast in saying that we don’t share their discriminatory views, where they exist.

  • Paul Bickley

    The author and most of the commentators appear to be living in a fantasy world. Do you want to represent the public, many of whom are religious? Do you want to work towards the common good, when many of those who would work with you toward it, are religious?

    You don’t have to agree with them… you do have to stop this posturing.

    Kier Hardie
    Phillip Snowden
    George Lansbury
    Arthur Henderson
    RH Tawney
    Alfred and Ada Salter

    Martin Luther King!!!

    On the basis of your new puritanism all of these would have no part to play in politics on the left.

    Oh, and you’d cut the active membership in the ward in which I live by a third to a half.

  • markfergusonuk

    That’s really not what the author is saying. It’s about arguing against bigotry, not faith…

    • http://twitter.com/mrbickley Paul Bickley

      Using words like bigotry is accusation, not reason. Question is one definition, and the author draws her definition very widely. Is being pro-life being bigoted, as she suggests? Then that is what I am, but I’m also an (active) Labour member. So are some Labour MPs. So would ‘beardy weardy’ socialist Rowan Williams.
      In a plural public square, most religious people would accept they can’t have everything their own way, but the author defines what it is to be left of centre solely in terms of an social rights agenda. This is a) wrong b) historically naive c) a massive practical mistake d) hardly One Nation.
      Happy to write at greater length on this if that’s useful at all in terms of promoting debate.

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