I spent the weekend at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust in Slimbridge, selling art and books as part of their Christmas market. For those of you who are either further away or not devoted bird watchers, this is a big nature centre, lots of water birds, and a big foyer suitable for doing events in. I had Druid books on the table, unshockingly, and I did sell some.
I also had several conversations with random people who saw ‘Druid’ on the book covers and wanted to talk about what they’d seen in the news, something about interfaith and charity… half remembered stories that made them uneasy. I ended up filling in gaps as best I could. I only have a partial grasp on what’s going on, but, The Druid Network – a registered English charity, applied for a place on the Interfaith Network (I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s called.) This is a big, publically funded interfaith group. The Druid Network were turned down, ostensibly on the grounds that it would cause disruption, despite no evidence of any Druid ever having disrupted any of the smaller interfaith groups where Druids attend.
It looks a lot like prejudice. Worse yet, it is prejudice in an organisation that gets its money from the state, and has therefore some sort of mandate. If you want to be a bigot in your own private playground, I for one don’t have the energy to bug you about it. I’ll go someplace else. But, if you are a big, official outfit and there is no ‘somewhere else’ that makes a viable alternative, I am not a happy bunny.
I like interfaith work. I’ve had a little bit of formal exposure. I like the kind of random informal stuff I end up doing at events. I also like the Druid Network (I’m a member but in no way qualified to speak on behalf of said outfit). I do not like what’s happened here. The whole point of interfaith is inclusion. I’ve heard plenty of protest against the idea of ‘fringe nutters’ getting a toe in the door anywhere. Usually from people who assume ‘fringe nutters’ are all the people they haven’t heard of, and the odds are good they’ll include folk like the Bahia and Jains in there. As well as us, of course. Tabloid thinking, we all know how it goes. ‘I haven’t heard of it and therefore it’s a worthless pile of rubbish’ is not the mindset that makes interfaith work. ‘I don’t like it so I don’t want to have to deal with it’ is another attitude you cannot take into interfaith work. It all starts to sound a bit like ‘don’t take my toys away!’
Some of the bigger UK faith groups have not been getting good press lately, for other acts of exclusion (Church of England saying no to women Bishops). Politically this sort of behaviour just isn’t clever, and it doesn’t help anyone. We need to be able to talk to each other. We need to foster open communication to reduce fear and prejudice. We need to accept at the table anyone who feels moved to be there, no matter how fringe, or weird or ‘not us’ we think they are. Exclusion is a good way of breeding resentment and entrenching bloody stupid ideas on both sides. We need something a lot better than this. I wait with interest to see what we actually get.