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Weak point

This Autumn's party conferences were a reminder that religious voices do not have a monopoly on the language of belief. 'This is my faith' said the Labour leader Ed Miliband, referring to his view that politics is still a tool with which society can be changed for the better.

The reminder is timely because, as politicians get closer to the next General Election than the last, there is in some quarters an unwillingness to recognise that the Christian churches are no longer the sole representatives of moral authority. Some commentators have argued that the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury should usher in a new era of fear-free advocation.

But of late, governments have given rather too much credence to their religious critics. Despite British society becoming less religious over the last two decades, faith schools, for example, have flourished. And the last attempt to arrive at consistent instruction on sex and sexual ethics was amended at the last minute to allow those schools to teach their own commandments. This despite recent research suggesting that homophobic bullying in faith schools was compounded by a lack of regard for lesbian and gay issues among their teachers. During Labour's last term of office, after the Pope declared that the Equality Bill contravened 'natural law', Harriet Harman announced that it would not be pursued.

Readers may determine that these interventions do in fact work for the benefit of society. We may on occasion agree. But in being so ready to make them, consecutive governments have frustrated non-religious voices and dragged them yet further from any meaningful dialogue with people of religious faith - with us. As a result, for some in our churches, it has been necessary to step away from institutions that have grieved them. But ultimately this may mean leaving our organisations in the hands of people whose religious beliefs - for this applies to Christian, Jew and Muslim alike - are, for them, excuses to behave without decency or honour. A minority, doubtless, and we by no means suggest that most of those who argue for a less reticent church wear those labels. But history suggests that those who claim to know the truth have been a more insidious influence that those who claim merely to seek it.

So, do we merely stand aside and accept a tide of secularism washing over us? No. But we must understand, as the Apostle Paul did, that we operate as strangers in a strange land. Loud demands for political favours come from those who insist on their own strength. We insist, instead, on our own weakness, and offer it as a point of contact. We meet those who argue with us as equals, rescinding our historical claims to authority. What strength is left, then, is God's.