A British Baptist leader welcomed the UK government's announcement of a new "Commission on Integration" as "a good start" in moving toward a multicultural society, while challenging Baptist churches to do more to take a lead on the issue.
"We need to put forward a multicultural Baptist union, so that churches feel they want to emulate that positive model," Wale Hudson-Roberts, racial justice coordinator for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said in the Baptist Times.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke recently wrote faith leaders inviting views on an advisory body to be known as the Commission on Integration and Cohesion. The body would focus on practical ways to overcome barriers to integration, building on the work of seven task forces set up by the Home Office to study issues of integration and extremism after terror attacks in London on July 7.
The call for a new commission followed warnings by Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equity, that British society is "sleepwalking our way to segregation."
"We are becoming strangers to each other, and we are leaving communities to be marooned outside the mainstream," he said.
Drawing on the recent example of New Orleans, Phillips warned against complacency in the face of divisions and cited research showing that for 95 percent of white Britons most or all of their friends are white.
"The fragmentation of our society by race and ethnicity is a catastrophe for all of us," Phillips said. "We all have a part to play. Integration has to be a two-way street, in which the settled communities accept that new people will bring change with them and newcomers realize that they, too, will have to change if we are to move closer to an integrated society."
The Baptist leader Hudson-Roberts acknowledged the segregation that exists in many areas and said minority cultures are often rejected because people are uncomfortable with ethnic differences.
He said Britain is not a multicultural society, where "those from minority culture are fully embraced by those from the host culture in a reciprocal relationship," but rather a society where different groups merely "co-exist."
Churches have a "very poor" record on the issue, he said. "Some Baptist churches don't take the issue seriously enough," he said. "They fail to appreciate the significance of affirming black and ethnic minority folk."
Pat White, a member of the Baptist Union of Great Britain Racial Justice Committee, agreed that segregation poses a particular problem for churches.
"Churches need to look at this issue quite closely," she said. "For many, Sunday can be the most segregated time of the week."
While dialogue from the new commission "cannot but be helpful," she said, "the top-down approach doesn't always work," and churches must do more to integrate ethnic minorities.
"It is for us to start breaking down those barriers," White said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.