[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #10 in October 2010]
Faith-based communities form some of the most important institutions shaping the day-to-day lives of Chicagoans. As Issue#10 looks at Institutions and Infrastructures, AREA was curious about the intersection between religious and social justice practices. For this Q & A, we asked activists of faith to respond to the following question:
How do the principles and practices of your faith community bring you to social and political movements in Chicago? Please provide examples. We are interested in better understanding the role religious organizations play in promoting the social well-being of local communities beyond their own, and how they might offer models of partnership, collaboration, and resource sharing that secular groups could learn from.
What follows are some of the responses AREA received. Do you find a social or political imperative in your belief system? Add your comments and read additional responses at: http://www.areachicago.org/faithQ&A
While religion may have the potential to divide, it also has very interesting ways of bringing communities together to work for the greater good. That is, religion has the power to mobilize people to address social maladies and to strive for a higher quality of life for all. In the religion that I practice, Islam, there is an imperative to do everything that you can to better the lives of those around you. It’s not just about bringing people together and sharing interaction, which is important. Also, it’s not just about the basic needs of food, shelter, and health, but actually ensuring that all people’s lives are as fulfilled as they should be. In Islam, there are so many beautiful examples that speak to the importance of accepting others, regardless of their religious background, and providing them with support that goes beyond their basic needs. Once you accept others, you feel compelled to ensure that their lives are just as valuable and fulfilling as your own. Inner-city Muslim Action Network works to meet these varying levels of need through health-care services, youth programs, career development services, and arts and cultural programming.
As part of the Christian community I am called to live my faith into action. I am called to love my neighbor, to welcome the stranger, to build communities based on love, justice and peace. I am blessed to be part of a church community and to work for a faith-based organization that see these principles as central to who we are and the work we carry out together.
I am a member of Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ (http://www.waucc.org), a faith community committed to working together to build a more just world. Part of the mission statement reads: “We affirm and publicly declare our opposition to and denouncement of physical and economic violence and war, and we affirm our covenant with one another to take upon ourselves the struggle with all the powers that bring war, oppression, injustice and death.” We have made a commitment to each other and to God that we will not remain silent in the face of injustice.
I also work for the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America and coordinate the immigrant justice project called the Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition. We are an interfaith education, action and advocacy network working for peace, justice and human rights in our hemisphere. (http://www.crln.org)
I live out my faith by actively and publicly participating in social and political movements that work to ensure that all people can live, love, and work with dignity and justice.
Estelle Carol & Bob Simpson
Third Unitarian Church (TUC) has been a voice of liberal religion on Chicago’s West Side for 140 years. Founded in 1868 as a religious home for progressive dialogue, the church has evolved as an economically, socially, and racially mixed congregation. Spiritual growth, mutual support and social justice are important to us. Our members have worked for many causes over the years, including civil and gay rights, antiwar movements, economic justice, and understanding among religions.
We have worked to be good neighbors in Austin, hosting C.A.P.S., block clubs, and other neighborhood meetings and housing a children’s day care center. We promote neighborhood discussion, maintain contact with public officials, and encourage initiatives to support community development. For 25 years, the church has sponsored college scholarships for Austin high school graduates.
Judaism’s emphasis on the sacredness of all life—even with its pain and contradictions—grounds my commitment to building a world free of oppression. My Jewish practice and communities offer space, time, and structure for pausing, noticing, making meaning, celebrating, and asking questions. This deepens, strengthens, and catalyzes my social justice work.
Working as an ally in the struggle for Palestinian liberation is the most important activism I do as a Jew. I am a member of the Chicago chapter of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, an anti-racist, anti-imperialist Jewish-identified group working in solidarity with Palestinians. Chicago IJAN is committed to taking our leadership from, and remaining accountable to, Palestinians. We also work to de-center Jewish voices in the conversation about the State of Israel.
Being queer and anti-Zionist puts me at margins of the Jewish community I claim to be part of, but I am firmly rooted on the edge and draw strength from this location. It opens possibilities for collaboration and resource sharing with other marginalized communities. Turning away from nationalism and false, oppressive ideas of security, my comrades and I create community vibrantly and enthusiastically rooted in the diaspora. Whether we relate to our tradition historically, culturally, or spiritually, we are claiming our voice as we both draw from it and contribute to its change.