Over the past few months, I have found myself considering the knotty issues of integration, citizenship and cohesion. Life in lockdown acts as a pressure cooker for the issues already present in society. Tensions have been bubbling up between communities, social classes, blue and white collar, young and old, and even within families and households (with a worrying but predictable increase in domestic abuse). After some initial distractions, the COVID-19 crisis has not so much resolved issues in society, but in many cases has further emphasized them.
Social class, ethnicity, location and all the usual equality markers can be tracked as having been exacerbated by this crisis. The most obvious indicator is that those who, in normal times, have the worst health outcomes, in the coronavirus crisis, again, have the worst outcomes.
Of course, it has not all been bad news. In many cases there has been an encouraging growth of community. Many of us have got to know our neighbours better, learnt to appreciate public parks, the NHS and our faith communities more.
When it comes to faith – both the Keeping the Faith report on local authorities by the APPG on Faith and Society and the Danny Kruger MP review of the Voluntary and faith sector – speak positively of the part faith has played in this crisis.
The pandemic has not been universally bad, neither has it been universally good. Broadly speaking, issues and assets from before the crisis are still there now. Any pressure puts a strain on weak points.
As I have been looking at different theories of integration, assimilation, multiculturalism and inter-cultural dialogue, I have been struck by the way that each has strengths and weaknesses. At FaithAction’s conference in November 2020, Building Back Better, we looked at faith and the future. What is to be the role of faith in wider society as we look the future?
As I consider this I find myself wondering – ‘can faith bring us together?’ Can faith close the chasm between individual rights and group rights? Faith communities have provided a goodwill infrastructure – a true social fabric in this crisis – for the short term alleviation of the immediate problems of the lockdown. However, is there a greater role for faith communities to play? To create a more integrated and harmonious society following issues of Brexit, quick succession elections, Black Lives Matter, loneliness and the unequal experience of COVID-19?
No answers this time – just questions. What do you think?