Religious leaders sidelined?

Family Group Conferences (in Dutch: Eigen Kracht Conferenties, which means “Own strength” conferences, as a rather effective community-based approach for decision making processes have been introduced during the last years in the Netherlands. The idea is simple: if you have problems which you cannot solve for whatever reason, you ask your social network to help you. Those who could benefit from Family Group Conferences are for instance: people with disabilities, isolated (elderly) people, people ‘sans papiers’, people with conflicts in their neighborhoods, at school, victims who seek for reconciliation with their perpetrators, etc. An independent facilitator organises a meeting with family, friends and involved professionals (social service providers; government bodies, etc.) and together an adequate plan is made containing several decision making steps towards regaining control over the problematic situation. In fact it offers a very basic approach to citizenship. It is about improving co-operation between individuals and the social (care) system. Citizens who are supported by their own peers become more empowered and less dependent on State provisions. They strengthen their place in society and take more responsibilities. In short, it is about strengthening civil society.

I recently learned about one successfully arranged Family Group Conference in which not only family, friends and (social) caregivers were present, but also a religious leader who brought in more ethically and religiously legitimated points of view to the issue at stake. Her interventions in the discussion, I was told, had a balancing influence on the group. She was very capable to listen to the said and the unsaid (close listening) and ask for deeper meanings, fears, etc. Besides, she comforted the people in the group with religious inspiration and support. Her position as a participating professional among other professionals was established and likewise could facilitate co-operation in other situations. Besides her presence within the Family Group Conference she powerfully acted as a mediator between this family and the rest of the religious community in the sense that she gave apt information about the needs of the family and enhanced the social network.

The influence of a leader of a religious community is far-reaching. His/her positive involvement is of great importance in respect of ameliorating understanding of and knowledge about usually stigmatized and/or excluded individuals i.e. minorities. The religious leader is one of the main stakeholders of decision-making processes, though his/her advising role in religious matters is unfortunately often forgotten. It also goes surprisingly enough for the CBR Guidelines (also a Western concept), in which religious leaders are not included as main stakeholders. With regard to the more preferred term of Community Based Inclusive Development - instead of Community Based Rehabilitation - inclusion not only refers to people with or without special needs, but also to all community institutions which are (positively) prominent in decision making processes related to the very development. Religious institutions and their representatives are invaluable in these of course!

Why is it that religion is so much sidelined from the global dialogue on development? Is it (the UN) politics? Is it the (secular) writers of the West who tend to think that religion is purely a private issue and forget the impact it has on the public domain; the mindsets of most people anywhere in the world? Tell me, why is it?


- Hanke Drop, associate member Enablement, 6. September 2013 -