Monday, August 19, 2013

Social Justice through Interfaith The way to walk your spiritual talk!

United Religions Initiative Indigenous meeting - Brazil 2008

A few days ago a post by Crystal Blanton positing that perhaps Social Justice is the “New Interfaith appeared in The Wild Hunt.
"While Pagans in the Interfaith community continue to work toward religious tolerance, integration, and networking, we are hearing more about the work of social justice in the community. Is social justice becoming the new interfaith?"

 It caused me to stop and think for a moment.  Is this author saying that interfaith is somehow obsolete? Is she saying that Interfaith does not deal with the issues of Social justice?  Does she, like so many others, believe that all we do in interfaith settings is hug each other and sing warm and fuzzy songs of faith swaying back and forth while congratulating ourselves on tolerating the “other”? Actually I’m pretty certain that Crystal doesn’t ,but It no longer surprises me to find that most who have not participated in the deeper processes of interfaith believe this.  It is however about as far from the truth as any two diametrically opposed ideas can be. While I do not necessarily disagree with any of the ideals discussed in the article, I will take absolute exception to the idea that interfaith work is somehow unrelated to social justice.

I am all for any work done in the name of social justice, but social justice outside of the framework of religious practice leaves spiritually behind, as was pointed out by one comment made when the respondent claimed to be conflicted about the idea of this practice outside of his spiritual way of life. Social Justice through the lens of interfaith allows people from any spiritual path to walk their talk, and in particular those who beliefs are based in orthopraxy (right doing) vs. orthodoxy (right thinking or right writings).

Social Justice is often the key that opens the door to interfaith practice, allowing a community where there is no previous foundation in interfaith relationship to come together to find common ground. Many groups will begin by working on some issue of social justice together. In working thus, shoulder to shoulder these community members get to know one another on a much more personal level and develop a trust that allows them to enter into deeper relationships with one another.  Social Justice is the window, through which different religions may come to view common issues of poverty, and injustice which they can work together to resolve.

Social justice has been, since the beginning of the interfaith movement, the common ground upon which people of differing religious beliefs can join together to create a healthy community.  A couple of years ago a friend of mine lost a temple to three teens in the aftermath of 911. The temple’s name was Gobind Sadanand the three young men thought that they were reading Go Bin Laudin.  They burned the temple to the ground in New York.  Social Justice at work, my friend, a Sikh leader, Ralph Singh, made an impassioned plea to the court for forgiveness of the hatred that caused the young men to do this.  "While they must be responsible for the crime that they have committed", he said, "let them be forgiven for the hatred that caused it".  The court took him to heart and sentenced the boys to three years each rather than the 30 years each that comes with a crime of hate. Today the boys are out and helping in the community they sought, in ignorance to destroy.

Martin Luther King Memorial
Social Justice is the underpinning of every interfaith gathering that I have ever attended.  At the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona I was privileged to sit and listen to indigenous people from all over the world talk of the state of their respective nations and the need for forgiveness in order to move forward in social action.  These actions included the reclaiming of languages that were still considered illegal to speak, and land rights still in litigation to name only two of so many.

At the Atlanta North American Interfaith Network Connect in 2012 the entire three day event was centered around social justice.  We heard from the Mayor and Governor who spoke to the hard work that the early civil rights leaders did on behalf of all people. We heard from ministers who had marched and organized with Martin Luther King Jr. and who, now in their eighties, are still as vigorous in their work on civil rights as they were then.  We visited the King Church, and memorial.  We visited a food and clothing bank that feeds and clothes the greater part of Atlanta’s working poor. 
Atlanta Community Food Bank

North American Interfaith Network Borad - 2013

This year in Toronto, we heard from Government leaders who are working on reconciliation and repatriation of their First Nations peoples and from the people who are working toward forgiveness of the atrocities that the Canadian government has perpetuated upon them. We heard from the organizers of “Idle No More”, an originally Canadian, indigenous, grassroots movement. It has spread around the world and is used to protest any number of social issues.
Interfaith networks of communication are busily protesting a Papal Bull called The Doctrine of Discovery which has adversely affected legislation of indigenous rights since discovery of the new world and is still the foundation of many US laws affecting First Nations rights.
We are fighting to get the last nations refusing to recognize the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People to sign this ground breaking agreement.

The United Religions Initiative is a global interfaith network of Cooperation Circles or CCs (at least seven members of at least three different faith traditions, or spiritualties).  Of its almost five hundred individual and independent CCs the majority are focused on issues of social justice.

ANT-Hiroshima CC is a non-governmental organization based in Japan which draws its inspiration from the experience of the A-bomb survivors who, together with support from the international community, worked to rebuild their shattered city in a spirit of peace and reconciliation. In a similar spirit, ANT-Hiroshima is involved in a range of relief, reconstruction, and peace-building projects in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and the Philippines.

The Prayas Institute for Social Development was registered as a secular, non-profit, voluntary organization in Hyderabad, in the State of Andhra Pradesh. Its members, who are trained social workers of various faiths including Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity, come together and focus on development programs for the underprivileged sections of their society in India.

One CC of 60 members offers services to women who are the victims of years of armed conflict in the region. They provide counseling, refer women to health centers and encourage women who have few economic means to learn about their rights and legal services. They provide educational programs and lead a small tailoring project to empower women with skills which will potentially enable them to earn an income in Africa.  Other groups focus on Indigenous rights and the list goes on…and on.

Social Justice is the glue that binds otherwise disparate groups of religious individuals of differing beliefs together and gives that coming together in fellowship and common purpose an absolute and measurable relevance.

R Watcher, National Interfaith Representative Covenant of the Goddess
                    Board, North American Interfaith Network Internal Communications Chair
                    United Religions Initiative, Communications Coordinator for the Multi Region


  1. I think there is a piece to this that I would like to respond to. "I am all for any work done in the name of social justice, but social justice outside of the framework of religious practice leaves spiritually behind, as was pointed out by one comment made when the respondent claimed to be conflicted about the idea of this practice outside of his spiritual way of life."

    That is one of the fundamental differences with interfaith and social justice work. It is not about a personal agenda to bring faith into the picture per se. Social justice work is most often about the bigger picture of equality for oppressed populations or situations. If I am doing work for impoverished kids, I am not doing it to bring in paganism. I am doing it because it brings justice in a systemically oppressive system.... to promote fairness and equality.

    I think that is one of the points missing in this write up.

  2. With that said, I do think that Interfaith and Social justice work go hand in hand in many different arenas, and work very well together.