Cooperation and positive coexistence: Faith communities in the UK
A Statement by the Faith Communities Forum of the Inter Faith Network for the UK
The Inter Faith Network for the UK has, since 1987, linked and worked with faith community representative bodies, inter faith organisations and educational and academic bodies with a shared commitment to deepening understanding about and between faith communities and to good inter faith relations.
The national faith community bodies in membership of IFN meet regularly as the Faith Communities Forum. The Forum has become concerned in recent times about the way in which relationships between religions are so frequently described in negative terms and offers the following reflections.
“Our United Kingdom and its individual nations are home to people of many different faiths and beliefs.
As faith communities, each with our own traditions and beliefs, we affirm strongly the value of harmonious coexistence, of values that are shared and of cooperation for the common good.
Through the Inter Faith Network for the UK and through other routes, we work together increasingly closely on social projects and we have a deep commitment to dialogue.
There are some who would spin a narrative about faith communities as in opposition to each other, and as a divided and divisive force. We reject this narrative. Relationships can experience strain, for example due to particular events here or overseas or disagreements over particular issues, but the overall engagement of faith communities at UK, national and local level is positive.
We welcome the chance to be in respectful and positive dialogue with others of different faiths and beliefs as part of developing and strengthening mutual understanding as well as for helping work through difficult aspects of shared past histories or of contemporary events.
There are, of course, within some critiques of faith traditions, charges that we should not lightly dismiss. We acknowledge that there are many instances in history, and in the present time, when religious traditions, or particular groups of their followers, have acted wrongly – through waging war, persecution of those of other faiths and beliefs, or through failures such as to protect victims of abuse. We have sought – and continue to seek – to address these issues and to help our respective communities to do so.
Many religious traditions have, in their scriptures or in their foundational narratives about episodes in their history, references to the beliefs of other religious traditions and actions of some of the members of those. Sometime these are of a difficult nature. While there cannot be an expectation of faith communities that they excise particular scriptural teachings or that they not to mention periods in their history (or histories written by others) where, for example, they resisted persecution of themselves and other groups, careful explanation of context is very important. Thus, for example, the Council of Christians and Jews has worked for many decades to help Christians and Jews understand the context of the references to Jews in the Christian New Testament and to seek to ensure that these and non-scriptural historical Christian texts do not feed into a negative view of Jews.
A matter of profound concern to us as well as others is individuals using writings from within their own traditions out of context, twisted and turned to extremist purposes, including terrorist murder, for which there is no justification. As faith communities we must call such people to account. There must also be redoubled efforts to ensure that followers receive teaching that is authentically part of their tradition and understood in its full context – including the bases for positive relations with those of other faiths and beliefs.
We are committed to dialogue and also to encouraging careful exploration of history and exposition of texts as part of mutual learning. We also underline the vital importance of good religious education in schools and of education for inter faith understanding in other contexts such as HE, FE and workplaces. Education is a bulwark against prejudice – as well as the door to a wider understanding of the world around us.
In these reflections, we have focused particularly on perceptions and realities of relationships between faith communities in the UK. These relationships can be affected by many factors. We are particularly concerned at this time about prevalence of divisive rhetoric, hate speech and rising hate crime. There are those who are actively seeking to drive a wedge between communities, to divide and to foment prejudice and hatred.
We stand together in the face of such destructive actions and in support of those affected. We encourage all to join us in working for greater understanding, for cooperation and positive coexistence and, in the words of IFN’s vision, “a society where there is understanding of the diversity and richness of the faith communities in the UK and the contribution that they make; and where we live and work together with mutual respect and shared commitment to the common good.”
21 February 2020
Notes for editors
- Press queries to the Inter Faith Network: email firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Inter Faith Network for the UK www.interfaith.org.uk was founded in 1987 to advance public knowledge and mutual understanding of the teachings, traditions and practices of the different faith communities in Britain and to promote good relations between people of different faiths in this country. It works with its member bodies and others to carry out these aims.
- Member bodies of the Inter Faith Network include: national faith community representative bodies; national, regional and local inter faith bodies; and academic institutions and educational bodies concerned with inter faith issues. A list of member bodies can be found at http://www.interfaith.org.uk/members.
- Representatives from member bodies in the national faith community representative bodies category meet together regularly as IFN's Faith Communities Forum (FCF). The FCF discusses and consults on matters of common interest and concern, and has a particular focus on public policy issues.
- A copy of IFN’s statement making policy can be found at https://www.interfaith.org.uk/uploads/Policy_on_making_of_statements.pdf
- 'Faiths and beliefs' is used in this statement to include non-religious as well as religious beliefs.