Faith is a "force for good" and parents should not be afraid of raising their children as Christian, Britain's Secretary of State for Communities said last night.
Sajid Javid, who acknowledges a Muslim heritage but doesn't practise any faith, said: "Faith is undoubtedly a force for good."
Faith inspires people into public service and to help people in need, he said, and referred to a recent report that showed parents of all faiths, particularly Christians, were afraid to pass on their faith to their children in case it alienated them. "That does worry me, because religion can be an important factor in a child's upbringing," he added.
Javid's address was significant because it gives a further, clear indication of the importance placed on faith by the government under Prime Minister Theresa May – a vicar's daughter.
Javid, who is married to Laura, a practising Christian, described growing up in his family's Muslim household and complaining to his brother about not getting Christmas presents.
His brother replied: "Look, we might not get one Christmas but we get two Eids."
Javid continued: "Now, with my own kids, growing up in this multi-faith world in a multi-faith household, they celebrate the two major Muslim festivals, they get presents at Eid and they get presents at Christmas. They also get loads of Easter eggs that they demand as well. So things have changed."
Javid was speaking at a meeting at Westminster of Faith Action, a network of faith organisations serving local communities, hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society. The event celebrated the "faith covenant", a document that can be signed by local authorities and faith groups to commit to good working practices.
He said Theresa May had talked about the importance of faith in her vicarage childhood and how it had helped her throughout her life.
He was speaking in the Macmillan room in Portcullis House, Westminster, named after former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who also spoke often about the importance of his Christian upbringing.
"My own experience, the things I learned in mosques, still apply very much to how I see the world today. So I am very proud that this government recognises the value of faith," said Javid.
He noted that the Near Neighbours programme of 1,000 projects was just one example of how people of different faiths can work together to help others in some of the most deprived communities.
Faith communities across the country are also celebrating Interfaith Week this week.
Javid said this was "an excellent opportunity to celebrate the work being done by people of all faiths and to recognise the hugely important role that religion continues to play in our society".
He pledged: "I am standing here to help you in any way I can with the important work you do."
Stephen Timms MP said: "Our APPG on faith and society was set up a few years ago to draw attention to the enormous contribution faith-based organisations are making to well-being across the country."
One aim was to remove "barriers" that sometimes got in the way, Timms said. "It quickly became apparent that a lot of groups have difficult relationships with their local council."
He said that some councils were wary that faith groups might try to convert people instead of delivering a service, or in some way favour people of the same faith. The faith covenant was drawn up to address these fears and to make sure equal opportunities and other obligations were observed.
Timms said the aim is to "build trust" so councils can tap into some of the "unrealised potential" of faith groups.