Intro to Interfaith Pt. 3: Activism
What do Nobel Peace Prize winners Malala Yousafzai, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. all have in common? Faith. While religion is the cause of much conflict around the world, we can’t deny that many of the world’s most influential activists are people of faith.
Organizing Around Shared Values
So how do people from completely different religious backgrounds unite around common causes? The answer is shared values. Recognizing values that are shared across religions and cultures such as, serving others, treating others with respect, resolving conflict peacefully and caring for the environment is at the heart of effective interfaith cooperation. (1)
Scholars from diverse academic backgrounds claim that the "Golden Rule" is the "most agreed upon universal moral value.” (2) Nearly all world religions, including non-religious philosophies, teach followers to treat others how wish to be treated. This creates a space for people of different faiths to come together to honor this shared value through service.
By honoring the Golden Rule, we seek to create a world of equality; one where we seek to give others the same opportunities and living conditions as we would like for ourselves. The Golden Rule is reflected in many of the causes that interfaith groups organize to address: human rights, alleviation of poverty, peacebuilding, and environmental responsibility. The Golden Rule demands that we give to others what we want for ourselves, including dignity and human rights, fair economic opportunities, respect for human life, and a planet that is healthy and safe to live in.
Activism at the Local Level
While interfaith activism is centered around shared values, it is often practiced in different ways. People of faith participate in activism on a local level, through their congregations and religious communities. On a community and congregational level, interfaith dialogue often transpires through multi-faith prayer and worship services as well as cultural exchanges, such as sharing religiously significant meals. Activism typically occurs through planned interfaith service projects, ranging from cleaning up parks to facilitating blood drives.
The rapid increase in the popularity of crowd-funding, however, has added a new dimension to interfaith activism on the community and congregational level. Muslims activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi launched a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $120,000 in a matter of days for a vandalized Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. (3) After a Texas mosque was destroyed in a suspicious fire, local Jews, Christians, and non-religious people raised over $1 million, surpassing the mosque’s $850,000 fundraising goal. (4) While interfaith activism has existed on a local, congregational level for some time, social media now has the potential to shed a national, and even international, spotlight on the actions of these faiths communities.
Activism at National and International Levels
Traditionally, interfaith non-profit organizations are responsible for facilitating activism on national and international levels. These organizations tend to focus on several key issues that affect all human life, regardless of faith. This includes, but is by no means limited to, environmental sustainability, peace and conflict, poverty alleviation, and human rights.
Non-profit organizations address these issues in diverse ways. Interfaith Power and Light developed an organizational model that engaged and educated hundreds of congregations on the spiritual obligation to preserve and protect the environment, which led to the passage of climate and clean energy laws in the state of California. (5) The Fellowship of Reconciliation promotes active nonviolence on a national and international level by providing nonviolence leadership training on a grassroots level and building and maintaining networks of peace organizations throughout the world. (6) OneVoice seeks to facilitate a just and lasting peace for Israel and Palestine by working with global policy makers, amplifying the voices of grassroots partners in Israel-Palestine, and running education programs for high school and college students on how to advocate for a just peace. (7)
As you can see, interfaith organizations tend to engage multifaceted approaches to achieve their goals. These organizations, as well as individuals and communities of faith, all play an important role in addressing issues that directly affect the human condition. Interfaith activism demonstrates the power of values that transcend religious difference and mobilize people to work together for the common good.
- Interfaith Youth Core,. 2013. Facilitator's Tools: Interfaith Conversations On Shared Values. https://www.ifyc.org/sites/default/files/better-resources/SharedValues_small.pdf.
- Kinnier, Richard T., Kernes, Jerry L., and Dautheribes, Therese M. 2000. "A Short List Of Universal Moral Values". Counseling And Values 45 (1): 4-16. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007x.2000.tb00178.x.
- Hanau, Shira. 2017. "Muslims ‘Overjoyed’ As $130K In Donations Pour In For Vandalized St. Louis Jewish Cemetery". The Forward. http://forward.com/fast-forward/363765/muslims-overjoyed-as-110k-in-donations-pour-in-for-vandalized-st-louis-jewi/..
- Chappell, Bill. 2017. "Donations To Burned Texas Mosque Top $1 Million In Outpouring Of Support". NPR. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/01/512826283/donations-to-torched-texas-mosque-top-1-million-in-outpouring-of-support.
- "Mission & History". 2017. Interfaith Power And Light. http://www.interfaithpowerandlight.org/about/mission-history/.
- "How We Work - Fellowship Of Reconciliation". 2017. Forusa.Org. http://forusa.org/how-we-work.php.
- "Onevoice International". 2017. Onevoicemovement.Org. http://www.onevoicemovement.org/where.