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By Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director.
This opinion appeared at the ING blog.
We as a society are in a tumultuous moment—not only politically but morally. Millions of people find the actions of the Administration, and of Congress also, deeply immoral, and they are taking to the streets to voice their discontent. People of faith, individually and as communities, are prominent among them.
But do people of faith have anything unique to bring to the struggles of the present moment? Can they do more than simply swell the multitudes protesting in the street or overwhelming Capitol telephone lines?
Yes, they can. In a moment where the latest executive order or the latest protest threatens to suck up all the world’s attention, people of faith have resources and wisdom that reach back millennia, and we need to bring them to bear on our current struggles. Here are some of them:
- Religious and ethical resources bearing on today’s contentious questions: The questions roiling the public today touch directly on issues about which our various traditions have much to say. This rests on the wisdom of centuries and cannot be written off as manifestations of modern liberalism. People of faith have rich spiritual and ethical resources that speak to today’s debates, including traditions and teachings addressing peace, nonviolence, mutual respect, hospitality, charity, and pluralism; and these resources point to basic values shared by all major world religions and also by humanists and other non-religious people. In the current climate, where certain religions (primarily, of course, Islam and Judaism) are openly or implicitly demonized, it is vital to point out these shared values and to use them as a starting point for addressing the ethical issues entailed in today’s conflicts. The issue of the reception of refugees, for instance, touches directly on questions of hospitality and care for the vulnerable that virtually all religious and ethical traditions address.
- Spiritual resources for self–care: Dealing with deeply-felt political and moral issues can easily lead to burn-out or, worse yet, to self-righteousness and anger that trigger speech and action that violate the very values we are trying to inculcate. Here, too, our traditions have rich resources to offer, including approaches to prayer and meditation, sacred texts that profoundly and powerfully express the truths and values that should inform our grappling with current issues, and the examples of adherents past and present who have lived by the virtues that we wish to see emulated. People of faith and spirit need to avail themselves of these resources and encourage fellow activists to draw on them.
- Hope: This could have been included under either of the two preceding points, but it so undergirds and completes everything we seek to say here that it deserves consideration on its own. Particularly when one is, politically speaking, the underdog, it’s easy to be overcome by frustration and even despair. But whether one believes in a beneficent deity or divine reality or simply in the potential of the human mind and spirit, our religious and ethical traditions offer assurance that evil does not have the final word—that, as Martin Luther King said, echoing words from a long tradition, “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” Our spiritual traditions empower us to see that long arc beyond any current defeats. The current moment requires people who can draw on those traditions to kindle hope as we tread a challenging path of resistance.
Merely having these resources is not enough. We need to be both media-savvy and organizationally savvy—media savvy to draw media attention to our presence and our message, and organizationally savvy to initiate prayerful and spiritual events that build awareness of our values and resources among a broader public and inject them into current debates. The current Administration appears to be listening to the voices of only one segment of our country’s broad spectrum of faiths and faith communities. We, who on the basis of our faith share the moral concerns of so many of our fellow citizens, need to raise our voices to ensure that the values we seek to live by are heard above the din.
- Rev. Ken Chambers, Interim Board President , Interfaith Council of Alameda County
- Linda L. Crawford, Executive Director, Interfaith Center at the Presidio
- Rev. Kristi Denham, Co-President, Peninsula Multifaith Coalition
- Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director, Islamic Networks Group (ING)
- Fatih Ferdi Ates, Director, Pacifica Institute
- Diane Fisher, Director, Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley
- D. Andrew Kille, Chair, Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC)
- Will McGarvey, Executive Director, Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County
- Rev. Dr. Penny Nixon, Peninsula Solidarity Network
- Michael G. Pappas, M.Div, Executive Director, San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC)
- Steven A. Pinkston, Director of Christian Service, Bellarmine College Prep
- Scott Quinn, Acting Director, Marin Interfaith Council
- Rita R. Semel, Founder and past Chair, San Francisco Interfaith Council
- Moina Shaiq, President, Tri-City Interfaith Council
- Stephanie S. Spencer, President-elect, Eden Area Interfaith Council
- Jessica Trubowitch, Director, Public Policy and Community Building, Jewish Community Relations Council – San Francisco Bay Area
- Ardisanne Turner, Chair, United Religions Initiative North America