Deluded, dangerous do-gooders

In this week's Faith Column, we look at faith in practice and the work of volunteers. In our first b

As a Salvation Army Officer for the past ten years, I have heard people make these claims against the Christian church and particularly about our own organisation.

These accusations are rarely said in an aggressive tone but rather in a way that suggests we only do what we do because we have a hidden agenda.

I have to confess, we do have an agenda but I pray we will never be so ashamed of it that it actually becomes hidden. For our motivation comes from our love of God and our belief that every human being has intrinsic value and the potential to be the person God wants them to be. But we offer help unconditionally to all people in need, regardless of whether they recognise ‘God’ or not.

The Salvation Army has a form of practical Christianity that has seen it grow from the streets of the east end of London to a worldwide organisation spanning 113 countries. In the United Kingdom, The Salvation Army has become one of the largest providers of social care after the government – a fact which surprises many people. You could not reach this level without being professional, well trained and organised. No do-gooders here.

Before being called into ministry, I used to be an office manager for a small shipping company. Despite having no background or experience in social care or theology, I gave up everything that I held dear to do what I felt God wanted.

After two years of specialist training, I was sent to Ireland still feeling totally inadequate for the task ahead. Since that time I have worked in different settings alongside the homeless, street children, the elderly, those with severe mental health issues, drug addicts, alcoholics, sex offenders, asylum seekers and refugees. Not bad for an office manager!

I have rescued people from paramilitaries and cried with people who could not see any future beyond a bottle of spirits or the end of a syringe. I have felt gut wrenchingly sick when I listened to children speaking about selling their bodies in the same matter of fact way as they would buy a bag of sweets. I have sat on walls trying to convince people not to commit suicide and sat on hospital beds praying and holding the hands of people moments before they died.

I have also witnessed people freed from the power of addiction, people given a sense of hope and purpose and moving on to do incredible things they didn’t believe possible, people finding release through forgiveness, people discovering a plan and a purpose for their life.

Deluded and dangerous? I don’t think so.

I currently manage a large centre for 150 former rough sleepers in the heart of the east end of London. For many, English is a second language and religious belief swings between apathy and strict Islam. For me it makes little difference, for I do not see people’s faith, or language or circumstances. I simply see 150 precious lives.

I am not a trumpet playing, Bible bashing evangelist but rather a living example of what God can do in ordinary people and passionately believe he can do the same in others as well.

So yes, I have an agenda and I see no reason not to shout it from the rooftops.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.