Labour should not treat people of faith as eccentrics or oddities as it may have done in the past, an MP from the party has said.
Stephen Timms, the Labour Vice Chair for Faith Groups, said that Labour needs to work “respectfully” with faith communities.
In an article for The Guardian website, Mr Timms also pointed out that most people in Britain identify with Christianity or another faith, saying: “Religion is not irrelevant in modern Britain”.
Pointing to statistics on religious adherence in modern Britain he wrote: “Sunday attendance in the Church of England alone is several times larger than the membership of any political party”.
Mr Timms also said: “To demand that people leave their faith behind when they engage with politics would be absurd. Integration of religion into public life and dialogue between diverse groups helps avoid division.”
While noting that Ed Miliband, the Party’s new leader, doesn’t come at politics “from a faith perspective” Mr Timms claimed Mr Miliband does understand “the importance of working with faith groups”.
Mr Timms remarked on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments that: “The trouble with a lot of Government initiatives about faith is that they assume it is a problem, it’s an eccentricity, it’s practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities.”
The Labour MP said: “It shouldn’t be like that. If we gave that impression in the past, we must not do so – cannot afford to do so – in the future.”
Mr Timms, who is MP for East Ham in Greater London, wrote: “Some worry that bringing religion into the public square may cause division, and fragmentation of communities. But I am convinced that faith groups are more likely to contribute to cohesion than division.”
He continued: “We need to be equipping our institutions to work respectfully with people whose starting point is faith, to be tapping in to the insights of faith communities – their moral perspectives and their experiences of practical initiatives in the UK and abroad.”
Mr Timms also said: “Our relationship with faith groups will not be primarily about winning votes.”
Mr Timms is the latest politican to speak out about the role of faith in politics, after Baroness Warsi, the Conservative Party’s chairman, said the coalition Government would “do God”.
Baroness Warsi said under the Coalition the church would play a central role in the Big Society, a scheme where grassroots volunteers get involved in their local communities.
She commented: “I don’t just want to say to you that you have a lot to contribute to building the Big Society.
“I want to tell you that for me you are at the heart of society already and key to its future, and that this government will be on your side.”