Faith in Our Streets

(Spectrumbot) #1

There may be fewer people in the pews but faith is playing a powerful role in our streets.

Those of us who care about faith in America might find Pew Research Center's recent Religious Landscape Study depressing—Pew said that overall the number of people who identify with a religion is declining in America. But our experience gives us hope, because we don't think Pew is necessarily looking in the right places.

The two of us—a Christian minister working at a Jewish nonprofit and a Muslim community organizer—see people every day experiencing their faith outside the walls of a church, synagogue, or mosque. It's harder to quantify the role faith plays for people expressing their values through fighting for justice, but it's an important piece of the current puzzle of faith in America that we won't find in the Pew study.

This fits with another finding of the Pew study: a broadening perspective of who is considered one's "neighbor" among people of faith in America. Christians are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, switching religion is a common occurrence, and religious intermarriage is on the rise. As demographics change and religious plurality rises, there is a groundswell of people working together across faith lines, mobilizing around social and economic issues. Personal faith is impacting public life.

Last fall, faith leaders joined ranks with peaceful protesters in Ferguson to demand justice for black lives and capture the stories of heartbreak and hope lost in the news. This past Hanukkah, Jews and Muslims demonstrated together in New York City to decry police brutality. An interfaith rally led by Pastor Jamal Bryant united the Baltimore faith community in hopes of healing after the death of Freddie Grey in police custody. These voices made an impact and the other week, President Obama announced banning military-grade weapons at local police departments.

Sacred texts and religious traditions provide narratives of hope and justice that are a powerful counter to our everyday experiences of growing economic inequality and exposed systemic racism. The contradiction between the world as it is and the world as it should be catalyzes people to put their faith into action. This week, 40 Jewish, Muslim, and Christian community organizers from around the country came together in Los Angeles for the first time, to organize across racial, ethnic, and religious divisions and build on the success of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Fight for 15 campaign to work for racial and economic justice.

When we express our faith in the streets, we are working towards personal transformation as well as social transformation. Last November, California voters passed Proposition 47 by 60 percent of the vote, taking a small step towards ending mass incarceration of communities of color by downgrading some non-violent felonies into misdemeanors. Proposition 47 largely passed thanks to the volunteer work of faith leaders from California's biggest faith-based community organizing network, PICO California. As part of that effort, we had a chance to meet Debbie, a community leader with PICO affiliate LA Voice and Homeboy Industries. Working alongside fellow community members led Debbie to her own personal transformation and filled her with hope. "We can do anything together!" Debbie exclaimed after Prop. 47 passed statewide.

Too many people associate faith activism with those who abuse faith language to promote exclusionary and regressive policies. We saw that recently in the language used to promote Indiana's so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which promoted discrimination against the LGBT community. People in power often abuse faith to divide and keep communities separate from one another. However, as the American landscape of faith becomes more diverse—racially, ethnically, and religiously —we can expect to see more diversity in how faith is expressed and the impact it has—personally, communally, and in our streets.

Geoffrey Nelson-Blake is Director of interfaith Community Organizing Residency at Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. Sarah Jawaid is an organizer, writer and artist. This article originally appeared on Huffington Post Religion, and was reprinted here by permission.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Kim Green) #2

And it is about time that personal faith impacts public life because if it does not then I question the legitimacy of the “faith”. There is another article on this forum that talks about not hiding one’s “light” and this article very clearly spells out what people of faith can do together to shine light in a dark world. Most likely some naysaying commenters will talk despairingly about “social gospel”- however, if Jesus did anything on this earth it was most certainly “social” and it affected the world. Let our light/faith shine!

(Steve Mga) #3

The problem with these good grass roots community organizations is that they are seen by those Opportunists to worm their way into leadership with them and become a catalyst for Not Good. But serving their own ends, and providing themselves a life-time of employment, a life-time of power. An opportunity to make the “down trodden” believe that only They can “save” them. These Opportunists become life-time Professionals.
These are the dangers inherent in the “grass roots” loose knit organizations.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

I am in my 91 year. I have both hips replaced, The left hip severed or injured a nerve. I had a compound fracture of my left tibia a year ago, I had a severe heart attack 8 months ago, I have a pace maker. I can drive. I do the shopping with a walker. I now know how kind people on the street can be. yesterday I had a doctors appointment, A very crippled lady was entering ahead of me. she actually held the door for me. now traffic is different something about a car gives the driver hormones of a more primitive age. Tom Z

(Chris Blake24) #5

Steve, the problem with cynicism is it can be applied variously and wrongfully. Every allegation you make for community organizers may be aimed at all churches, pastors, NGOs, and businesses–at any and all organized efforts. No possibility exists then for common good.

On the other hand, I attended the havdalah service with the 40 young adults from differing faiths mentioned in the article. I watched two Muslim women wearing hijabs volunteer to take the braided candles and help lead the service to celebrate the closing of shabbat. I saw candlelight warm the eyes of young adults who celebrate both their own religious traditions and respect the faith of others. I heard worshipers of the one God, whose faith adherents still kill one another, sing together in resonant harmony. I felt our arms wrap around each other. That night I enjoyed a taste of the new earth.

(Steve Mga) #6

I wasnt trying to “throw cold water” on any event. An event like this can become mysterious and mystical.
I have been to wonderful community events on World’s Aids Day where people get together, sing, celebrate, call out names of those to be remembered, light candles outside.
And been at other Ecumenical Events that inspired cohesion.

I was just thinking about long-term events like at Ferguson, MO where local people could allow outsiders to take over and manipulate what was happening. And turn the focus other ways. Outside persons have done similar other places. Taken over positions from local leaders. That was all.