What does a national Interfaith Organisation do?

Two weeks ago I blogged about what local interfaith groups in Scotland are doing. Today I’m telling a bit more about what Interfaith Scotland as a national interfaith organisation is doing.

The obvious differences between the local interfaith groups and Interfaith Scotland is the area they are working in (Interfaith Scotland in the whole of Scotland and during cooperations even abroad) and also that Interfaith Scotland as a charity has some paid staff, while the local interfaith groups are run on a complete voluntary basis.

Structure of Interfaith Scotland

Interfaith Scotland is a member organisation. Faith Communities can become members or associated members of Interfaith Scotland. A list of all actual members can be found here.

Interfaith Scotland is a charity, which gets it’s funding through membership fees and applying for funding from different authorities, mainly the Scottish government. Interfaith Scotland got a board of trustees, where the major faith communities of Scotland (Buddhism, Baha’i, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism) as well as the women interfaith groups and the local interfaith groups are represented. For the year of young people the board also co-opted a young person. A list of the members of the board can be found at:

http://www.interfaithscotland.org/about-us/ 

But what is actually Interfaith Scotland doing?

Scottish Interfaith Week

Interfaith Week is an invention by Interfaith Scotland. Some years ago the other parts of the UK joined in in celebrating Interfaith Week. Thanks to the local interfaith groups and the different faith communities there are events happening during Scottish Interfaith Week in every region of the country. Scottish Interfaith Week always has a theme. Last year’s theme was “Creativity and the Arts” and this year’s theme will be “Connecting Generations”. If you are interested in organising an event for Scottish Interfaith Week you can already start thinking about what you would like to do about this theme. There is also an art competition for schools every year during Scottish Interfaith Week.

Interfaith Week takes always place in November and more can be found at:

http://scottishinterfaithweek.org

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD)

Since quite a while Interfaith Scotland is organising the national Holocaust Memorial Day event for Scotland in January. The event is always in a different council area of Scotland. This year’s event was in Glasgow. The event remembers the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. Usually high representatives from politics, faith communities and other parts of the society are present and survivors or relatives of survivors are speaking. Around HMD there is an intense programme for schools going on and the younger generation is also involved in the official HMD programme. Especially in times when minorities are still suffering from Hate Crimes it’s important to remember the Holocaust and work together so that horrors like the Holocaust can’t never happen again.

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Supporting local interfaith groups

One main task of Interfaith Scotland is to support the local interfaith groups. Those voluntary run groups with members of different faith communities are support by Interfaith Scotland through different ways. For activities during Scottish Interfaith Week they can get a small financial support as well as materials about the theme (like information, presentations, dialogue questions, event ideas), which can be used for events. From time to time staff members of Interfaith Scotland are travelling around the country to visit some of the interfaith groups, to see if they need any special support, if there are certain problems on the local level and also to learn from them about their activities. Local Interfaith Groups get also invited to an Annual Networking Seminar, where they can meet members of other interfaith groups. The groups also get a platform on Interfaith Scotland’s website and in the annual newsletter. If people want to found a new group in a region where no local interfaith group exists (so for example last year in the Scottish Borders) Interfaith Scotland helps with this by for example organising the first meetings of the new group and contacting the different faith communities in the region.

Religious Leaders meetings

As part of the work with the Scottish faith communities Interfaith Scotland is the secretary for the regular meetings of the religious leaders two times a year (one in spring and one in autumn). Usually one of the faith communities hosts the events. To witness one of their meetings was one of the most interesting experience during my time here and it was really good to see how the religious leaders were treating each other very open and respectful.

Summit with First Minister

In addition to the two meetings of the religious leaders, Interfaith Scotland also brings together the religious leaders and the First Minister for a summit once a year. I think it is really important that the government connects with all the different faith communities and this meeting is an important part of this.

School workshops

Interfaith Scotland offers different kinds of workshops for schools of all levels. For example it is possible to bring representatives from different faith communities to schools so the students have the possibility to talk to people of different faiths rather than just reading about their religion. Especially (but not only) for schools in less diverse areas, this is a great opportunity. Another possible workshop is to bring boxes with religious objects to the schools, so the children can explore the religions by exploring typical objects. The third option is that a staff member of Interfaith Scotland is coming to a school and giving a presentation at a school assembly or in a class and to have activities for example about “why interfaith dialogue is important”.

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Youth programme

Not only during the Year of Young People, but especially now, the work with young people is important for Interfaith Scotland. Examples for this kind of work are the Youth Conference, which is taking place tomorrow in St Andrews or the Christian-Muslim Scotland-Rwanda exchange programme, which was taking place last September. For the coming time Interfaith Scotland has even employed a youth worker, who is going run some activities for young people such as an interfaith youth retreat.

SAFE (Scotland Abroad Faith Exchange)

Even with the main focus of it’s work on Scotland Interfaith Scotland is also doing some international work. This year Interfaith Scotland is participating in two Erasmus+ projects, funded by the European Comission, working together with charities from several other European countries. Last month the director of Interfaith Scotland was in New Zealand and visited different interfaith organisations there and even spoke in the parliament about the interfaith work in Scotland.

In very little countries in the world interfaith work is as good organised and well supported as in Scotland and so it is good to let other’s learn from the Scottish experiences and to learn from the experiences similar organisations gain in their countries in an often more difficult surrounding.

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Dialogue for Members

Interfaith Scotland is organising special dialogue session for it’s members. One example can be the dialogue event about “Identity and Belonging” last autumn.

Cooperation with Police Scotland and other authorities

There is a very close cooperation between Interfaith Scotland and authorities like Police Scotland. This results on the one hand in training session in religious awareness, which Interfaith Scotland is delivering and on the other hand in intense dialogue in the prevention of conflicts as well in how to respond for example on religious motivated hate crimes or potential terror attacks from any kind of extremists.  

Cooperation with other Interfaith bodies

Interfaith Scotland also cooperates also with other interfaith organisations. This can be on the regional level, for example the cooperation with Edinburgh Interfaith Association and Interfaith Glasgow, or on the Scottish national level, for example with the Interreligious Council of the Roman-Catholic bishops conference, or on the wider level, eg with the Inter Faith Network for the UK.

Training Sessions

Interfaith Scotland is providing training sessions for different groups. Often those sessions are about how to deal with the needs of different religious groups or how to prevent discrimination against people because of their religion. Last week I had the opportunity to participate in one very interesting training day about how to tackle (religious) hate speech in youth group settings.

Publications

Interfaith Scotland also publicises materials, which can be found on its website.

Every year Interfaith Scotland publicises a Newsletter where stories about the last year’s activities are shared. The actual Newsletter was just published this month and can be downloaded here.

Interfaith Scotland has also accounts on facebook and twitter, so people can follow the different activities.

I hope this article could give you a good insight into the widespread work of Interfaith Scotland as a national interfaith organisation.

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Holocaust Memorial Day 2018

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Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day. Because of that a lot of HMD events are organized these days all over the world. The National Scottish Memorial event was organized by Interfaith Scotland on Wednesday. It was a successful, moving and dignified event. In the centre of the evening we heard two stories about the Russian city Rostov-on-Don. We heard about how the Nazis massacred the Jewish population with mobile gas chambers. We heard also how Feodor Michalichenko a young man, saved and protected a young boy (7 years old), who later became the chief-rabbi of Israel, in the Concentration Camp of Buchenwald. We saw a drama and listened to music performed by Glaswegian school children. We heard from young people about their trips to Auschwitz and Rwanda. The First Minister of Scotland, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, the chair of the national Holocaust Memorial Day Trust were involved in the programme as well as Holocaust survivers, guests from Rostov-on-Don, representatives of the different victim groups in the Holocaust and representatives of Scottish Jewish communities and other faith communities.

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I have to admit before the event, especially in the beginning of the planning from September onwards, I was a bit sceptical, if it was possible to have this kind of event with so many involved groups in a dignified way. My fear was that I, as someone who was raised in a country where remembering the Holocaust is very present in the political and social discussions, might have different expectations about a Holocaust Memorial Day event, than people outside of Germany. About some of my thoughts I wrote in this blog in my article from 8th September 2017. In the end I was satisfied with the way how the event went.

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There is only one question I have very ambivalent feeling about: Is it right to remember “subsequent” genocides together with the Holocaust?

On the one hand I totally agree that every genocide is horrible and worth remembering. For the person who is shot to death I might not make a huge difference if they were killed by a German, a Cambodian or a Serbian soldier or if they were killed by their neighbour in Germany, Dafur or Rwanda. Everyone in the world should know about this genocides and everyone should work hard so that this list doesn’t become longer and longer. So again it is definitely worth and important to remember all the different genocides and maybe it is an mistake (but even understandable) that German remembering culture is so concentrated on remembering the Holocaust.

But there are three questions that make me doubt about combining the remembering of the Holocaust with the remembering of the “subsequent genocides”.

  1. Isn’t the Holocaust a singularity?

From my point of view this question must be answered yes. Not only is the total number of victims higher than in the other remembered genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Dafur. From everything I know the other genocides (and that might be much to little in the end) the highly industrialised way of organising and conduction of the killing in Nazi Germany is a significant difference to the other genocides. Where else did such a bureaucratical way of killing millions of people exist?

  1. Does remembering the Holocaust together with other genocides relativize the Holocaust (and the other genocides)?

In Germany the persons who say “Well there were horrible genocides in other places in the world as well” have usually a right wing (extremist)/neo nazi background. Those voices come often together with appeals to change the remembering culture away from a focus on the German guilt towards a more patriotic/nationalist view onto German history. This relativistic attitude is very dangerous and even, when I don’t believe anyone at the official Holocaust Memorial Day event in Scotland or somewhere else in the UK has this attitude, there is the danger of seeing the Holocaust as “just one of many bad events in history”. And even if the remembering is done in a way that doesn’t relativize the Holocaust I see the danger of relativizing the other genocides. The Holocaust with it’s millions of deaths and the different groups of victims (besides the genocide of the Jewish population, there were persons with disabilities, LGBT, Roma and political opponents of the regime killed) looks always larger than the other genocides and it could make people think about Bosnia, Cambodia, Dafur or Rwanda: “Well at least it was not as worse as the Holcoaust”.

  1. When remembering genocides why only “subsequent” genocides?

Of course not every killing of people fits the official criteria of a genocide and not always is it easy to draw the exact line between a genocide and other crimes of mass murder. But there other, at least “genocide-like”, events which happened before the Holocaust. One example are the crimes of the Germans against the Ovaherero and Nama in Namibia between 1904-1908 – already with Concentration Camps and the death of half of the population of those two people. Another example would be the crimes against the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. Other examples could be the killing of large parts of native populations in the Americas and other parts of the world during the age of colonization.

Because of those three questions I still have my doubts whether it is good or not to combine the remembrance of the Holocaust with the remembering of the different genocides. But in the end it might be much more important that those events are remembered than the question if they should be remembered separately or all together.

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The long way to peace between faiths

This week I visited the local interfaith group in fife. They told me about their activities and we discussed how Interfaith Scotland could support their work. One thing they told me was that they built a peace garden in the large park in Kirkcaldy. The project needed a lot of resources and it took about 4 years until it was finished in 2012. Even if I couldn’t visit the garden it is good to know, that there is a place where all the different religions are calling for peace in the world. Hearing about the peace garden made me think about all the conflicts which have existed and still exists between the different faiths. And I started thinking about how religious groups, which have been enemies for a long time, can become peaceful partners.

I know at least one example where that happened after a nearly 2.000 years history of persecution. I’m from Germany and a protestant Christian, so the example comes from the history of my own faith. In the so called New Testament (a part of the Christian Bible) there are scripture which have very strong anti-Jewish tendencies. From a historical point of view that’s completely understandable because the first Christians split up from the Jewish community and there were a lot of conflicts between both religious groups during the first centuries of their common history. After Christianity became the main religion of the Roman Empire Christians had the possibility to supress Jews and they did it because of the anti-Jewish tendency in the New Testament. Not all Christians did this but over the centuries it became a common sense in Christian theology that Jews were the “enemies of God”. During the middle-ages and the modern times it continuously came to pogroms against Jews in the Christian areas of the world. Even great Christian theologians such as Martin Luther the “founder” of Protestantism had strong anti-Jewish opinions. During the 19th century the theological antijudaism became an important radix for antisemitism.  Even if the first Christians and the Christian theologians during 2000 years of Christian history are not directly responsible for the gas chambers in Auschwitz, so have they prepared the way for it. Even if there were Christians in Germany during to Nazi regime who fought against Hitler and the Nazis most of the Christians did not and during the Weimar Republic the most Nazi supporting areas in Germany were those which were traditional protestant. After the war, the protestant church in Germany (and in other western countries as well) started slowly to change their theological thinking about Jews. They remembered all the things these two faiths have in common and the shared believes.

Today in the protestant church in Germany it is a real no-go to say that Jews must become Christians to be in a relationship to god. The Jewish faith is accepted as an equal way to god – not only because of political and historical reasons but even for theological ones too. The most important step on the way from persecuting and killing Jews to accepting them as equal partners was that the Christian churches admitted their guilt for the persecution of Jews. My (regional) church where I am going to work as minister from next summer changed its basic article in 1991. This text is the basis for everything what happens in the church. Every minister in the church is getting ordained on this article. Since 1991 the article ends with two new sentences:

“For blindness and guilt called for repentance, she (the church) again testifies to the permanent election of the Jews and God’s covenant with them. The confession of Jesus Christ includes this testimony.” ( „Aus Blindheit und Schuld zur Umkehr gerufen bezeugt sie (die EKHN) neu die bleibende Erwählung der Juden und Gottes Bund mit ihnen. Das Bekenntnis zu Jesus Christus schließt dieses Zeugnis ein.“)

I think it is not usual that a religious group has the permanent election of another religious group as one of their main articles of believe but it gives me hope. It gives me the hope that the different religious faiths can accept another as equal partners without a repeating of the history between Christians and Jews. It would mean that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais and all the other faiths would confess everything they done to each other. It would mean that they admit their guilt and that they forgive each other. Maybe it’s idealistic but I hope it will happen. I think this is a task for every believer and everyone can do something for this. The “normal people” can try to build good relationships to their neighbours from different faiths. Have a chat when they meet, ask how they feel, let their children play together… The theologians must rethink their theological positions towards each other. The example of the Christian-Jewish relationship shows me that this is possible, even if it is a long and difficult journey.

What do you think? Is peace and reconciliation between the religions possible?

 

If I write about the “protestant church in Germany” I mean the EKD. If I write about “my (regional) church I mean the EKHN.

This Blog is out of Date

This is the post excerpt.

There was a satirical article published in the days after the Brexit result was announced with the headline ‘This article is out of date’ – the author was trying to convey that the fallout from Brexit was moving so quickly that there wasn’t enough time between the article being written and printed as more and more unexpected developments were happening in such quick succession.
I’m very conscious that when I write this edition of Interfaith Scotland’s Parliamentary Newsletter that by the time it is read, there will no doubt have been several more unforeseen developments, that may well be viewed as ‘game changers’.
With this in mind, I think it wise to use this newsletter to reflect on what has happened in the last few weeks, and to look at some of the implications.
In brief, Britain as a whole voted marginally to leave the EU. The battle was close and often bitter. There have been accusations on both sides of lies, exaggerations and broken promises. The immediate aftermath has seen a political crisis at the heart of Westminster. The Prime Minister, David Cameron announced that he was not the right person to lead the negotiations for Brexit as he campaigned for Remain in the EU. This led to the Conservative Party having a short fought leadership campaign. After much fall out, and public backstabbing of prospective candidates, Theresa May emerged as the next leader and consequently Prime Minister of the UK.
At the same time, the UK Labour Party have been plunged into a protracted, bitter and very public leadership competition. Essentially the leader (at the time of writing) Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have the support of his MPs (known as the Parliamentary Labour Party or PLP). However, the Labour Party is a much bigger movement – including MEPs, MSPs, local councillors and the trade union movement. There is speculation that Jeremy was elected because he better represented the broader party’s political desires than many of the Labour MPs. So, there will now be an election contest between two (and perhaps more) to see who will lead the party in the months and years to come. There are rumours that either way could see huge divisions within the party which may prove to be irreconcilable and the party could split – but this remains to be seen.
There is speculation that Theresa May may be forced early in her premiership to call an early UK general election. There are various ways that this could come about, but essentially it would give her the mandate to lead the country with the support of the country. Of course, this is dependant on the Conservative Party winning another majority. Bearing in mind they only managed a majority of 12 MPs last time, this could prove difficult in the post-Brexit context. There is also speculation that in this context, we may see an increase of UKIP MPs – UKIP are a single issue party who campaign for the UK to leave the EU.
There has been some criticism of the fact that Mrs May did not campaign for leave, and as there is no clear definition of what the leave vote actually meant, some feel that Theresa May may choose to put the UK’s Brexit on hold until we have further clarity.
Things get only more complicated when we begin to consider Scotland’s place in this situation. Every region of Scotland voted to remain in the EU, with the overall majority of 62%. As a result of this our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (who was a high profile campaigner across the UK for remaining in the EU) now feels that she has a mandate from the Scottish people to ensure that Scotland is not ‘dragged’ out of the EU against its will.
Ms Sturgeon has said that she will do whatever it takes to make sure that Scotland retains its position with the EU, and although it would be the Scottish Government’s last resort, she has said that the option of an independent Scotland may be the only option. This has of course set alarm bells ringing for many of the Scot’s who voted no in the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014. However, there is a lot of debate about the fact that many people who voted no to leaving in the UK did so as they were told this was the only way to retain membership of the EU.
Since the results of the EU referendum, Nicola Sturgeon and various other high profile Scottish elected members have been building bridges with EU dignitries to try and secure Scotland’s place.
The difficulty with this situation is that there is no precedent, which leaves a lot of uncertainty and question marks. No one knows exactly what the timeline is likely to be. At the time of writing, the next significant step will be when the new UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggers what is know as Article 50. This is the process whereby the UK officially gives notice to the EU that Brexit is happening. This has never happened before, but it is expected that when it does happen it will effectively start a two-year countdown clock to Brexit. However, Mrs May has recently stated that she won’t start this negociation process until there is a UK wide strategy.
So it seems that Scotland will have a seat at the negotiation table in some capacity. However, in the meantime the Scottish Government has started to set out the legislation that would be required for a second referendum on independence (only if ‘all other options’ fail!).

First blog post