Engaging With Faith?

We can’t assume faith leaders speak for everyone, argues Bryan Teixeira from Naz Project London.

Bryan Teizeira, Naz project London

Working with BME communities, we have no option when it comes to engaging with faith communities: we have to engage with them. The strong collective identities of many BME individuals result in religion being very much in the foreground. This may be truest for newer migrants. But it is more or less true for a large number of us, and ranges from genuine faith to simple cultural adherence to a religious tradition.

About more than engaging faith leaders

I think there is a lot of confusion about BME organisations engaging with faith/religion. There has been a naïve (Blairite?) belief for some time that one of the most crucial aspects of this engagement is relating to ‘faith leaders’. This belief assumes that if we win over leaders then genuine engagement follows. I have always found this approach to be a very flawed one.

Everett Roger’s classic sociological work on the diffusion of ideas is one of many that talks about the crucial role of ‘early adopters’ or gate-keepers in the generally slow transition of an idea from initiators into the wider community. I see faith leaders as gate-keepers or opinion leaders: their value to BME service providers is in linking us with the communities they lead. The clear ultimate goal for us is then not about working with faith leaders; rather, it is about addressing the needs of the people who make up faith communities.

Reaching beyond the mosque or the church

Once we have made ourselves known to faith leaders, the real work of BME service organisations is to then reach out to the religious laypeople who make up the wider group. This cannot simply or even primarily be a matter of reaching out to congregations and worship settings. It is especially crucial that we go beyond the church or mosque, e.g., reaching out to Muslim Women’s or Youth Groups, Christian Biologists or Engineers, Buddhist Counsellors, etc.

If we really want to serve BME communities, engaging with faith and religious leaders is only a stepping stone. The real goal is for BME service providers to reach out to faith and religious laypeople in these communities. In so doing, we must not make the mistake of believing that faith leaders speak for all. Nor must we assume that everyone who has a strong connection with a religious tradition necessarily has faith in it.

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