In the last two weeks, I have participated in two initiatives organised by faith-based actors. The first, on 2 March, saw me presenting before an ecumenical dialogue group of leaders from the Catholic and Pentecostal churches in Sweden. This group was formed in 2003 and led by Cardinal Anders Arborelius and Pentecostal Director Daniel Alm, and its goal is dialogue, information exchange and relationship building. Both denominations have NGOs, Caritas for the Catholics and PMU or the Pentecostals. Therefore, in Brussels, they met parliamentarians, faith-based actors and ecumenical organisations to be inspired and gain new knowledge on the church’s role in society.
The second initiative on 7 March was co-organised by a group of Faith Based Organisations (FBOs). It focused on the Global Gateway and whether it truly is a partnership of equals. This event was held in the European Parliament and co-hosted by MEP Saskia Bricmont and Carlos Zorrinho. Since the announcement of the Global Gateway in late 2021, African and European civil society, alongside members of the European Parliament, have raised pertinent questions about its funding, transparency, governance structure, and dependence on traditional business models. Therefore, the panel discussion offered a space for frank, respectful and constructive dialogue amongst stakeholders with different perspectives on the Global Gateway’s strategy.
These two events initially appear unrelated, with no common denominator except myself. Then, however, I realised that though dissimilar in objectives and format, the two events provided a moment of reflection.
First, the events were initiated and organised by faith-based actors. Why? Why would catholic and pentecostal church leaders travel to Brussels to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of the Brussels-based political and social actors? Why would a group of FBOs working in relief and development seek an interactive discussion on the Global Gateway?
The answer lies in the title of this article- because it is an opportunity to use our voice where it matters. Gone are the days when political and social discussions were the arena that religious and faith-based actors shied away from. In a world with multiple overlapping crises, as the saying goes, it’s` all hands to the pump’. This means that as many people as possible are required to contribute to an urgent enterprise. The urgent enterprise today is Agenda 2030-leaving no one behind! Securing a world free of poverty and hunger, and ending environmental degradation, amongst other goals. Faith-based leaders and FBOs have a relevant voice in the communities or parishes they serve or the rooms they can access. They have a seat at the table. A table where others do not have a seat, and hence there comes a responsibility to use this seat and to do so intentionally, holistically, and accurately. The latter responsibility cannot be over-emphasised in a time when some have used faith to stoke hate and division. So instead, as faith-based leaders and FBOs, we use our opportunities to engage with pressing issues, point out gaps in policy and encourage steps that foster human dignity and mutual respect regardless of the geographic power imbalances.
The second point to contemplate is our shared humanity. The Swedish dialogue group hails from a once revered country for adopting the world’s first explicitly feminist foreign policy. Now, it is seen as a country that has shifted right, cutting development aid, getting rid of permanent residency for some migrants and causing concern that the decisions in Sweden could have a ripple effect in other EU member states. The dialogue group expressed concern about the permanent residency rule, the increased alienation of migrants, rising crime in particular neighbourhoods and the increase of people needing social assistance in Sweden. Yet, it was clear that they could not ignore what was happening around them.
FBOs and the two MEPs who organised the Global Gateway event are concerned about whether there will indeed be a partnership of equals between Europe and Africa. These are different actors asking similar questions regarding the Global Gateway. How can the accountability mechanism be improved, how can partner countries benefit from it, and how far does it contribute to reducing poverty? Those asking these questions may appear removed from the reality on the African continent, but their constituencies ( in respect of FBOs) are not.
Thus, we see that at both events, a notable thread is our common humanity-ubuntu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously described ubuntu as meaning, “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.” In this instance, our common humanity, irrespective of geographical location, status or creed, requires we don’t shy away from the hard conversations. As EU-CORD, we are working towards a just and equal world carried by the values of relationship, servanthood and compassion. This demands that we continue to create spaces where religious and faith-based actors and local communities can engage in policy discussions that impact those who are the worst affected by the effects of the multiple complex crises.
In the words of Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit:
Advocacy work must be a substantively critical contribution, identifying hindrances toward a more just and peaceful world. However, it should also contribute to finding ways forward and solutions to the problems addressed. The characteristic of the message of the church is and must be hope.
As we continue contributing to finding ways forward, may we be carried by hope and buoyed by our faith.