Love, Faith & Hate: Leading Communities in a Diverse Society was a multi-faith discussion evening which took place at All Saints Church, Wokingham on Thursday, 28th September.
With the rise in ‘hate crime’ and xenophobia following the Brexit decision, the racial tensions created in the US since Donald Trump has become President, and recent terrorist outrages in the UK there are new stresses around difference and diversity and the role of religion in our communities.
How do we lead our communities in the current situation and continue to flourish in a diverse society? How do our shared religious and cultural values help us deal with such tensions?
The special multi-faith discussion evening organised by All Saints Parish Church in Wokingham in conjunction with Ashwani Gupta, Wokingham Borough Council’s Social Inclusion Officer, sought to address these questions , as part of the church’s public events series.
Over a hundred people from across Wokingham Borough enjoyed a shared buffet meal in the church followed by a stimulating discussion. A range of faiths were represented on the panel, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh, and the panel speakers were drawn from different fields including business, education and local government. (Speakers’ details below)
The discussion was chaired by John Kendall, who worships at All Saints Church with his family.
It was a wide-ranging discussion, acknowledging the need for respect, learning and greater collaboration among the various faiths represented:
• Charlotte told of being rescued, along with six others, by a Muslim man who showed great bravery during a shipwreck.
• Rami emphasised the need for religious belief to be a vehicle for change. His Sikh faith actively encourages equality for women.
• Krish, as British and dedicated to his Hindu faith, talked about his hope that the Church of England would stand up for its values of tolerance, justice and compassion, given the current UK political situation.
• Ossie emphasised our common humanity and the need to avoid being bound up by ritual and tradition, but to focus on the spiritual core of each faith – our actions and behaviour are ultimately what matters.
• Zafar and Charlotte spoke about the difficulties of intra-faith discussion often being greater than interfaith dialogue.
• John pointed out the need to be vigilant and work together, given extremist tendencies in our society and the prevalence of populist politics across Europe.
There was general acknowledgement that the media do not always pick up on good stories of interfaith collaboration, but tend to perpetuate stereotypes (all Muslims are terrorists etc) and a call for faith communities to do more to learn how to engage with the media too. There was a good discussion on the role of religious education in schools and how we might make this more compelling for children, as this is a key element in challenging such false stereotypes.
Rector of the Church, Canon David Hodgson said; “These kinds of discussions are sadly rare. In the current climate, such conversations are to be encouraged and are a vital ingredient in building stronger communities based on our shared beliefs and values.”
Dr Rami Ranger CBE
Rami is a founder of the British Sikh Association and a patron of The Princes Trust. He founded his own company, which has won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise five times. He was awarded a CBE in 2016.
Krish is Director of the Senior Faith Leadership Programme in Cambridge, where faith leaders (Jewish, Muslim and Christian) are trained in leadership skills together. He has a particular focus on leadership development, conflict resolution and change management.
Dr Zafar Iqbal
Zafar is Senior Policy Officer at Woking Borough Council, leading the Council’s community engagement strategy. He has set up a number of highly successful community organisations relating to education, inter-faith and business development in both the UK and Pakistan.
Ossie is a member of the Maidenhead Reform Synagogue and lives in Wokingham.
Rev Charlotte Bannister-Parker
Charlotte is Director of Outreach for the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford. She is the founder of the Oxford Annual Interfaith Friendship Walk.
Col John Kendall (Chair)
John is an analyst who has worked for a major UK Government department and engaged in peacekeeping activities in Europe.