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Evangelical Alliance defends churches relationships with councils

The role churches play alongside local authorities is being defended by a Christian charity despite claims suggesting officials treat faith groups with suspicion.

The 'Faith in the Community' study says councils believe faith organisations are vital to them doing their job but there are concerns over equality and political correctness. Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devonshire and Chair of Christians in Parliament, which commissioned the report, believes Christians and other religious groups are being shut out from local projects because of fears that they will try to convert people or discriminate against the gay community. However, local councils did acknowledge the value of faith groups being deeply rooted in their communities and that they can be trusted to deliver vital work. Mr Streeter also highlighted some of the shortcomings raised in the report including claiming that churches could be taken advantage of in the current economic climate.

He said:

"Local authorities will have less money and more demands in the years to come. Faith groups are not here to plug a gap, or pretend to be part of the state, but they are vital to the life of our communities. 

"Churches and other groups stand on the side of the poorest and most vulnerable, they get started before funding bids are accepted, and they stick around after they are cancelled."

Speaking to Premier's Des Busteed on the News Hour, Danny Webster from the Evangelical Alliance believes any problems can be ironed out with proper communication:

The study also found that some authorities don't know how much community work faith groups do as estimates varied from one to 70%.

It also claimed there are myths about working in partnership, which made some local authorities hesitant to work with faith groups. But it appears that misunderstandings of faith groups could be rectified through training. There were also indications that the bureaucratic hurdles some groups have to jump through to partner with their council are a big turn off, and this can undermine the benefits faith groups offer. The study says faith groups provide everything from dog training to anger management courses but debt crisis agencies, street pastors and food banks were the most readily recognised by councils.

It also says abandoned services such as libraries and post offices were also sometimes taken over by churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently described the fall-out from the financial crisis as the "greatest moment of opportunity for the Church since the Second World War" because of its expanding social role. His remarks echo the theme of Mr Cameron's "Big Society", which relies on groups such as churches to take on more responsibility in place of the state.

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