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'It's just nonsense': CEO of Evangelical Alliance hits back at secular group's criticism of religious staff as key workers

by Tola Mbakwe

The head of the UK's Evangelical Alliance (EA) has said the National Secular Society (NSS) questioning why religious staff are included in a list of key workers during the coronavirus pandemic is "crazy".

Although schools across the UK are closed, key workers can send their children to school if necessary. The Government has included religious staff as those who provide key public services. 

The NSS has written to the Government to ask it to review the list and outline its rationale for including "religious staff."

The society's letter said their inclusion would "unnecessarily add to the number of children attending schools, childcare settings and educational establishments, despite the urgent need to keep this number as low as possible".

It added that the guidance sent "the wrong message to the public about social distancing" and "religious concerns must never undermine public health, particularly during this time of crisis.".

CEO of EA Gavin Calver said the NSS has a huge blind spot. 

"I just think it's the height of crass. To honestly look at what the church does for society and not see any public benefit or common good is crazy," he said on Premier's Inspirational Breakfast show. 

"When you think that in the last 20 years or so it's the Evangelical Church which has come up with and delivered Christians against Poverty, street pastors, food banks - to suggest that all we're doing is not really making a difference to the society, it's just a nonsense. It's coming from a complete blind spot.

"I thought the timing was totally inappropriate. I think we need to be realistic and say people won't all agree with our faith but it's very hard to argue with the fact that the church isn't a good force for society".

However, NSS spokesperson Chris Sloggett said: "Every addition to the list of key workers in this extraordinary time increases the risk to the health of children, teachers and the people they live with. There must therefore be a very high bar for inclusion.

"Some religious staff may qualify on the grounds that they are performing vital roles which are also performed in a secular context. But there should be no separate provision specifically for religious staff."

Calver said both he and his wife qualify as key workers but they will be keeping their children at home because his wife is available to take care of their children.

But he said the situation could change for many Christian leaders. 

"If there was suddenly a load of funerals in our community that we needed to be doing most days, you need to send your kids to school probably," he said. 

He added that the EA is involved in numerous consultations with the Government on the church's response to pandemic and how to help make it easier for churches to support the needy. 

The NSS has apologised.

It said in a statement on Tuesday : “We understand how our commentary could appear insensitive at a time when many religious staff are supporting the vulnerable in our communities and preparing for a particularly challenging period ahead. We should have paid more regard to this, and apologise for any offence we caused by not doing so.

We'd like to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt gratitude to everyone - religious or not - who is working to support the vulnerable and those worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic.”

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