OPINION: Faiths must work together to mend society

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OPINION: Faiths must work together to mend society

Shadow secretary Jonathan Reynolds MP and Rabbi Alexander Goldberg reflect on how many shared values find their root in our religious communities

London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Chief Rabbi pose for an Interfaith iftar selfie, with other faith leaders and students (2018)
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Chief Rabbi pose for an Interfaith iftar selfie, with other faith leaders and students (2018)

There is such a thing as a society.

If anything links Jewish and Christian teachings, it’s this common understanding.

The late and deeply missed Lord Sacks said of society that it was more than the market or the state, ‘it’s about culture and shared values’.

Britain’s shared values are based on a sense of fairness, justice, the rule of law and social solidarity in the face of adversity, giving all a social safety net and free health care.

This last value has come to the fore in the last few months as we rediscovered that sense of community, supporting each other through these dark months of the pandemic.

It’s why we as a nation value the NHS and will never let it be dismantled or privatised by those who wish to place profit before people.

Historically in Britain we have championed the idea of community, rejecting other political models that place excessive emphasis on individualism or an overly powerful state over community.

That’s why we in Britain defend public services, democracy and the freedom to make choices for ourselves where they do no harm to others.

Jonathan Reynolds

Many of these shared values find their root in our religious communities, from our common teachings that we have a responsibility toward each other. It comes from that basic idea that all human beings are special, created in the same image, a sacred image.

The Torah, the Qur’an, the Bible, the Talmud in turn teach us that it is for that reason that we cannot allow someone to suffer, and that we must feed, clothe and look after them when they are not well.

These shared values found their way into Jewish and Christian thinking on the left.

They underpin our Labour views.

It’s why the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was purported to have said that the Labour Party ‘owes more to Methodism than Marxism’.

There has always been a quiet dialogue between faith groups on the left: an exchange of ideas about values forged in our collective faith. When Stephen Timms headed the Christian Socialist Movement and was a Government Minister he organised a meeting with a Jewish delegation.

After the usual pleasantries and a discussion on the challenges facing the Jewish community he turned to two Jewish representatives and said: “I have a question for you and have been wondering about this for a while. This Bar and Bat Mitzvah process, this idea of becoming adult, of taking responsibility for those in your community: is it possible to open up this idea and make it public policy?”

Rabbi Goldberg

The answer is it’s worth talking about.

Christians and Jews are used to talking: Archbishops of Canterbury, Chief Rabbis, Cardinals and other senior bishops and rabbis have engaged in interfaith dialogue for over 80 years; our children engage in shared activities and school linking programmes.

It seems natural to extend this to the sphere of politics.

Members of the Jewish Labour Movement and Christians on the Left along with others of faith within the Labour Party already have common ground: we know that discrimination, that antisemitism and racism are wrong, they are sinful, not Kosher; we come from communities whose institutions have worked tirelessly to develop new ideas to promote social justice, solve housing shortages and worked to bring children out of poverty; and in previous generations, we developed new communal structures to support those in our community facing similar social and economic crises to the one we are facing during and in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Faith communities developed new training institutes, credit unions and local schemes that put people back into work and helped new businesses to grow.

We did so ethically in order to create a fairer, more equal society. We can and will do again. Perhaps, now is the time to do it together.

Jonathan Reynolds is the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary and is chair of Christians on the Left. Rabbi Alexander Goldberg is Dean of Religious Life at Surrey University and writes here in a personal capacity.


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