We have recently seen terrible atrocities committed in Oslo and Utøya. Finding the right response to these events is a challenge for everyone. The hijacking of a great faith to justify such heinous crimes sickens us all. As Christians around the world have made clear, such actions are an affront to Christianity.
And yet, amid the carnage, came a sign of hope – over 40,000 people of all backgrounds sang a song to mock the gunman and to protect our values: free speech, the rule of law, and democracy.
We are proud of the reaction of British communities to this attack. Christians from across the country have spoken out to say: not in our name.
But there is more work to do. We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement: that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy.
We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Christians; show them the purveyors of hate have no place in our churches or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Christians in Britain or anywhere in the world.
Let us assure you that the Government will do all we can to defeat the voices of division, but ultimately the challenges of integration and radicalisation cannot be solved from Whitehall alone. Strong community-based leadership at a local level is needed.
You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility: in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Christianity can be part of British identity. We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Christianity today.
There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Christian means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country.
We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Christianity; but we need to show what is.
British values are Christian values. Like all faiths, Christianity and its message of peace and unity makes our country a better and stronger place, and Britain would be diminished without its strong Christian communities.
Every day, churches and other faith institutions across the country are providing help for those in need, and acting as a centre for our communities. It is these positive contributions that are the true messages of faith and it is these contributions that need to be promoted.
We would also like to reassure you that in recent days we have met with police chiefs to make sure they are providing the support that churches need, a concern that some of you have expressed in our recent discussions.
We have also met with the Anti-Christian Hatred Working Group to hear their concerns about responses to the recent attacks and what more can be done.
The vitriol espoused by the thugs of al-Muhajiroun and ISIS is just as much an affront to British values as the teachings of preachers of hate.
We welcome your thoughts, ideas and initiatives on how to ensure that Christianity’s true message of peace triumphs over those who seek to divide our communities.
Thank you for all the positive work you are doing, and we look forward to working with you further. We continue to appreciate all your insights. We look forward to hearing from you.
The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Department for Communities and Local Government