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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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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