A fascinating visit to Friends of the Earth as part of my MA in Media, Campaigning and Social change gave me lots to think about. We heard presentations about fracking, Brexit and media engagement, as well as learning about their campaigning approach more generally.
One thing that really stuck with me, however, was something very simple. Andrew Pendleton, the Head of Campaigns, stressed the importance of campaigns having a clear aim which can be stated in a few words or even less, for example ‘Stop fracking‘, ‘Protect bees‘ or ‘Stop air pollution.‘
I started to think about an area of campaigning that I’m particularly interested in: interfaith work. At a time when tensions between faith communities are running high across the globe, the importance of encouraging communication between belief groups could hardly be greater. But I can’t help feeling that the aims of interfaith organisations can come across as ill-defined and unspecific.
I’ve been involved with the Three Faiths Forum (3FF), an interfaith charity based in London. According to their website, 3FF “works to build good relations between people of different faiths, beliefs and cultures.” This is a noble ambition, but already exceeds the ‘few words’ suggested by Mr. Pendleton for a clear aim. Even at that, the idea of “good relations” is rather vague and does not provide a clear sense of what the work of the organisation is.
Furthermore, the very name of the charity is a misnomer. Despite being called the ‘Three Faiths’ Forum, the charity actually seeks to build relationships between communities of all beliefs. This evolutionary hiccup, due to the fact that the organisation was founded by Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders, seems like a pressing point for revision.
I’ve picked on 3FF, but could have said the same of similar organisations, such as the Interfaith Alliance, the Cambridge Interfaith Programme or the Coexist Foundation. Each proclaims ambitions like 3FF’s: to promote better understanding between people of faith and others through dialogue and research; to learn about, from and between religions as they interact within a secular and religious world, and so on.
But even if these aims were clear – despite being rather wordy – they still lack punch; it’s not obvious what the point of all this is. Mr Pendleton mentioned that Friends of the Earth uses Chris Rose’s Campaign Star. The top ‘point’ on the star reads ‘Ambition: what we want to achieve’ which is then broken down into, amongst other things, ‘direct change to the problem’ and ‘potential for further change.’ This is where the problem lies with interfaith work. It is not obvious which problem it seeks to address, and what further changes can be achieved by addressing it. Even in specific campaigns, such as 3FF Middle East – a campaign for ‘intercultural and interreligious relations in Israeli hospitals’ – do not provide concrete aims which can be clearly understood by supporters.
I truly believe that the work of interfaith organisations is extremely valuable, and that more work to this effect can produce genuine, positive social change. However, if they are to get wider support, they must work to communicate their aims with greater clarity.
The Change Agency, 2016. Making a Campaign Concept. [pdf] The Change Agency. Available at: http://www.campaignstrategy.org/book_extracts/making_a_campaign_concept.pdf [Accessed 5 December 2016].