Editor’s Note: As part of our current Patheos Book Club on Adam Taylor’s new book Mobilizing Hope: Faith-Inspired Activism for a Post-Civil Rights Generation, we invited a handful of “modern mobilizers” to share their stories of how they are mobilizing hope in their communities. This post is from Lisa Sharon Harper from NY Faith & Justice.
June 2010 we sat in a D.C. conference room staring at a large blank flip-chart page taped to a wall. Seven New York Faith & Justice leaders and board members joined 50 others representing teams from across the U.S. at the first annual National Faith & Justice Network Training Conference, Conspire: How to Build a Faith & Justice Movement in Your City.
Alexia Salvatierra, our lead trainer and the executive director of CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice) in California, explained that a faith-rooted approach to organizing begins with the identification of “core lies”– lies that everyone in your community assumes are true, regardless of their race, class, or education.
So, on this day, teams from Arizona, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Boston, Seattle, California, South Carolina, Washington DC, and New York City were broken into regional groups to discern “core lies” that most people in our cities or regions believe to be true.
The New Yorkers sat with empty flip-chart paper taped to the wall and it didn’t take long. Within minutes a long list emerged that we eventually narrowed down to two core lies:
- The ideology of individualism (i.e. “I am an island unto myself” and “What I do only matters to me” and “I gotta get mine”)
- Money = God. It demands the sacrifice of certain human beings on its altar.
There was heavy silence in the room as we took it in and considered what our own lives would be like if we really believed the truth:
- We are our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9-10). True fasting is not to choose a day to humble oneself, it is to loose the bonds of injustice. It is to share your bread with the hungry and invite the homeless into your house (Isaiah 58:5-7) Do not worry about your life, strive first for the kingdom of God and the rest will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:25-34)
- You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3) You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:24) All human beings are made in the image of God and, as such, are worthy of equal dignity and access to basic needs, including: food, shelter, work, and the ability to migrate (Genesis 1:26-28)
Then we considered a few ways the lies have manifested in our world:
- BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: up to 100,000 gallons per day for months killed ecosystems that God gave us the responsibility to steward. We failed to steward properly because we valued big money over regulation and stewardship of people and land.
- Financial system and devaluation of work and workers: Workers to executives wage gap is widest since the years before the Great Depression.
- Food and Health Disparities: The reality of “food deserts” in a city like New York — known for fine restaurants.
- Broken Immigration System: Arizona immigration law SB1070 passed. It devalues human beings, breaks up families, and encourages separate and unequal classes of people through the normalization of racial profiling. And more than 60% of the US likes the law.
- Normalized Violence: Creation of “throw-away” neighborhoods through the pervasive belief that some neighborhoods will just always be violent. All we can do is contain the violence there to make sure it doesn’t spread to the “good” neighborhoods.
Then a member and financial partner of NY Faith and Justice, said: “This reminds me of part of an Irish poem, by Brendan Kennely. ‘If you want to serve the age, betray it.'”
Last fall nearly 200 New Yorkers betrayed the age by attending the Food Faith and Health Disparities Summit. They gave up their Saturdays to spend the day in dialogue with other community members. Over the course of the day they identified six ways faith communities could help bridge the food and health gap in New York City. Now six working groups are building bridges!
Last fall nearly 600 faith leaders across the United States betrayed the age by signing on to an Open Letter to President Obama calling him to do everything in his power to support comprehensive immigration reform.
Now, New Yorkers of faith are gearing up for a full day of Faith-Rooted Organizing Training. More than 100 faith leaders, community members, advocates, organizers and government representatives of faith will join us on March 4, 9am-5:30pm as we lead this diverse array of New Yorkers through the beginnings of a process of discerning the age in order that we might walk in lock-step together to betray it!
Lisa Sharon Harper is Co-founder and Executive Director of NY Faith & Justice.
Visit the Patheos Book Club for more resources on Mobilizing Hope, including a book excerpt and author interview.