After more than 10 years of discussions, the United Kingdom has established guiding principles to engage faith-based groups with the aim of building greater common understanding, mutual respect and cooperation in overcoming poverty and promoting development abroad.
The principles paper – produced by the Department for International Development in consultation with a working group from faith-based development organizations – was unveiled at a meeting between officials and faith leaders in London on Tuesday at Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Church of England's Archbishop of Canterbury.
In the paper's forward, UK International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said "faith makes such an important contribution to development…. Faith groups are doing excellent work in providing not only humanitarian relief, but delivering health, education and other services in some of the most troubled parts of the world… I look forward to the closer partnership with people of faith who play a unique role in fighting poverty."
Rev. Rowan Williams, who introduced Mitchell and spoke after his presentation, said this "watershed moment" came about after the Secretary made a commitment to establish the principles during a "touching" speech at the 2011 Church of England's General Synod.
"We have for many years of course, here from Lambeth Palace and other forums, been in dialogue with DFID to see what we could do to bridge the cultures of different organizations and to make it absolutely clear that the vision we share is a convergent, not a divergent one," Rev. Williams said. "We'd be concerned also to say to successive governments that the capacity of faith communities at local level and grass roots level to deliver, with the Millennium Development Goals, is unparalleled. We want to have our resources, our skills, our networks at the service of that vision and what this paper allows us to say is that you are now welcoming those skills, those networks, toward such a vision and such an end and we are very grateful for that."
The document expands on its purpose for development.
"The areas in which these Principles will be applied include: building a common understanding of faith and development; documenting the impact of faith groups through research and evaluation; and, working on difficult themes and areas to find effective ways to progress development and bring about transformational change in the lives of the poor," it states.
The document describes a "renaissance of faith" in many developing countries, noting that in sub-Saharan Africa, since 1900, the proportion of Christians has increased from 9 percent to 57 percent and Muslims from 14 percent to 29 percent.
"Conversely, in number of industrialized countries, the role of faith and religion in societies appears to have been declining," the paper states.
The document notes a difficulty in defining a "faith group" but goes on to describe it broadly. It lists congregational faith groups (worshipping groups), representative faith organizations (like Sikh Organisations UK, World Council of Churches), faith-based development organizations (like World Vision, Islamic Relief), faith-based political organizations (like Germany's Christian Democratic Union), faith-based missionary organizations (groups spreading their faith), inter-faith groups (promoting mutual understanding), and others.
The document also states that faith groups have "considerable legitimacy in the activities they carry out."
"They are often the first groups, which people turn to in times of need and contribute to in times of plenty," the paper states, citing the World Bank's "Voices of the Poor" study.
Among the contributions such faith-based groups make, the paper notes, are provision of services and humanitarian assistance, empowerment and accountability, building resilience and peaceful states and society, changing beliefs and behaviors, and building support for development and global advocacy.
In his comments Rev. Williams said he was "grateful for the emphasis on respect for what faith communities are and do."
The document also calls for people working in development to "have sufficient understanding of the role played by faiths in the local, national and global cultural contexts."
Williams said the faith community was "grateful for the emphasis on the need for faith literacy in a political culture, which if I may say it as gently as I can, is not always – whatever the political coloring – always as advanced as it might be in that respect."
DFID Funding of Groups
DFID currently offers support to faith groups through different funding instruments, with the key instrument being the "Global Poverty Action Fund" which operates largely on a match-funding basis, the paper states.
Among DFID funding recipients are World Vision, which stops violence, abuse and exploitation of children and the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which trains teachers and constructs schools.
The paper notes the GPAF fund was designed to work with a variety of groups and not just "usual suspects." Among the ones mentioned are the Buddhist Karuna Trust; Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference AIDS Office; Tearfund UK; and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.
Long-term DFID partners include development groups Christian Aid, Islamic Relief, CAFOD, Progressio, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, and World Vision.
The paper also states there is a "need for more systematic evidence on the scale and impact of services provided by faith groups, and the distinctive contribution they make."
A "way forward" on that challenge involves disaggregating information on provision of services, a step that requires both qualitative and quantitative approaches and a focus on wellbeing "that goes beyond standard development indicators to include wider measures of the ability to flourish."
Such a system "fits in well with the UK Government's prioritization of results and value for money."
Working Through Difficult Areas
In working with difficult areas where values and ethical positions are contested by, within and between different faith groups, the challenge is to work constructively without threatening wider collaborative, the paper states.
Among those areas listed are contraception; gay rights, abortion; capitol punishment; gender equality; freedom of religion; blasphemy; and HIV/AIDS.
"Faith groups and DFID cannot and should not try to agree on everything," the paper states. "To navigate through these contested areas both faith groups and DFID need to be clear about and respect boundaries; ensure that we do not make prior assumptions; identify interlocutors to act as bridge builders; develop guidelines where useful on how to address specific contentious issues and create space for open and frank discussion."
Read Rev. Williams' remarks after Secretary Mitchell's speech below:
Remarks by Rev. Rowan Williams on June 26, 2012 after a speech by the UK's International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell at Lambeth Palace where the secretary presented a document the Department for International Development will use to engage faith-based development organizations.
I think that like all here, it's crucial that we welcome the commitment that's been expressed in this paper and the commitment of DFID to its mission and its vision and to working with faith communities in achieving it.
I remember very well, Secretary of State, your message to Synod and the passion which you brought to that which greatly touched many of us and I think that that commitment has been fleshed out in a very concrete and helpful way in this paper.
I was reminded of a time in my period as Bishop of Monmouth in South Wales where, other bishops here will recognize something of this story, I think. I was in the painful presence of putting together two parishes that didn't very much want to go together. Cwmtillery and Abertillery. As the names indicate, they were about a mile apart and I was told it was absolutely impossible for these two villages to come together into a single parish because their history and their culture was so totally different. Having eventually seen this through with a certain amount of blood on the carpet, I remember visiting the united parishes some six months later to be addressed by one of the senior people in the parish with the words – "You should have done this years ago, bishop." Well, something of that echoes in my mind tonight. We should have done this years ago, Secretary of State.
We have for many years of course, here from Lambeth Palace and other forums, been in dialogue with DFID to see what we could do to bridge the cultures of different organizations and to make it absolutely clear that the vision we share is a convergent, not a divergent one.
We'd be concerned also to say to successive governments that the capacity of faith communities at local level and grass roots level to deliver, with the Millennium Development Goals, is unparalleled.
We want to have our resources, our skills, our networks at the service of that vision and what this paper allows us to say is that you are now welcoming those skills, those networks, toward such a vision and such an end and we are very grateful for that."
Grateful for the emphasis on respect for what faith communities are and do. Grateful for the emphasis on the need for faith literacy in a political culture, which if I may say it as gently as I can, is not always - whatever the political coloring – always as advanced as it might be in that respect. Grateful too for being called to account because we must not be allowed to get away with shoddy, second-rate, imperfect, amateurish work simply because we hide under the banner of faith and we are very glad to be challenged, called to account and pushed to achieve the best we can, in that respect.
The reservations that have been expressed about the language of aid, are reservations which I think are very, very widely shared. Aid is an ambiguous word. Development is a much less ambiguous word though it has its critics. But I prefer on these occasions to talk most about transformation because our communities are all of them committed to transformation in one way or another.
All of us believe that human beings are capable of more than they thought they were. And aid and development are going to be trivial and demeaning and fundamentally unsuccessful unless they tackle that basic question of transformation.
How are people going to be able to act with the shared freedom and the shared vision that they're capable of. That is seems to me, is a vision we can properly share, properly expect to be called to account about, properly call others to account about as well. And when you speak of the need to check the evidence of change and to respond according to that I think we are willing to accept that as a perfectly proper criteria. Evidence of change is evidence of liberation and transformation and that is what we want to see as well.
So we look forward to a partnership perhaps deeper, more active, potentially more critical and demanding than before but also I think more full of potential for that transformation.
This is a watershed moment and a document of real importance. We are delighted that the long process of dialogue and investigation that has been going on for the last ten years or so between faith communities and DFID has issued in this work. We are very grateful to the civil society team of DFID for all their labors in producing it. We wish you well in your own vision, your own calling, if I may say so, in this role.
And we commend all that we are reflecting on together, all that we hope to do together, to God's grace and indeed God's mercy as we proceed in this work. Thank you so much.