Kimberly N. Alleyne
Publisher and Editor, The Harvest Magazine
Several anniversaries have greeted the first half of 2015: the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama; the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade; and the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. On their face, these events seem widely unrelated. However, their roots intertwine in the same soil: injustice, inequality, and the absence, or barring, of basic freedoms. Each instance is emblematic of progress and massive shifts in cultural postures that were prompted by movements to refuse to accept widespread wrong as normal or right.
Religion has, historically, had an inherent role in addressing systemic, social ills; that principle still holds true. Amid commonplace police brutality, religious persecution, human and sex trafficking, and threats to revoke reproductive rights, religion’s duty to influence wrong with right is ever relevant — and necessary.
It is a duty not without heavy responsibility, or internal challenges and struggles. How can the diverse faith communities under the umbrella of religion find unity for the good of the whole of humanity?
We sit in a starkly familiar place. We have been here before. The racism, sexism, poverty and hunger, violence, the defacing and arson of churches, shooting sprees at synagogues and mosques, brutality of the innocent are but modern scenes of episodes that played in social theaters of decades past.
People of faith demanded, marched and even gave their lives so that disenfranchised peoples and communities could have access to voting rights, and economic and educational opportunities. They were African-American, Caucasian, Jewish, men, women, young, old. They were traveled and well-read, they were unschooled and unexposed to places other than the boundaries of their city limits.
They were brave and they led with faith, peace and acceptance.
They did not have history on their minds, but they made it. Their historic feats of overcoming were made manifest by an organized group of religious leaders who disarmed themselves of ideologies and biases, and instead robed themselves in togetherness for all.
Religion led the way out of the social muck of the day and helped to re-write the narrative then, and the same must be true today. We must be as Cesar Chavez implored, “hungry and thirsty for justice in the manner we hunger and thirst for food and drink.”
Religious and moral leaders, theologians, and laypeople from all faith walks must not be remiss in their collective duty to stir a sea change. We can no longer simply stay afloat. In these times, we — the whole of us — must unmute our voice and harness our inherent power to bring lasting, transformational impact to communities across America, to every place where injustice and unfairness reside.
This is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. exhorted from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church. The pangs of the American Civil Rights Movement spurred a national clarion call for change and ushered the birth of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. People of faith shone the light and led the way to equality and freedom, and a new normalcy.
Why not now? Now is a ripe time for a new birth, for a loud, rousing call to change what see now for tomorrow and beyond. In our hands we hold a robust and rich past and present — we have an opportunity to shape the future of justice, and the future of movements that are powered by cross-denominational collaborations. Let’s groom a group of multi-faith leaders to blow the horn, to be the midwife a movement that is knitted together by shared vision and passion to overturn injustice rather one that is unraveled by differences and opposing viewpoints. Let’s embrace an approach that is fueled by the power of our differences.
Our love of God, of the Divine, of Spirit, of a higher power, of however we identify the Being that guides our lives must be what propels us to act (even if the belief is that there is no Being at all).
We can harness our collective power to wield greater impact when we lay aside the weights of pretense, prejudice and pride that often pollute our progress. If we allow our denominations to divide us, our power diminishes, and we, all of us, lose. Together, we can make our worship our service through action, beyond the walls of any gathering place.
There is one road that leads to the permanent destruction of injustice, inequality, and the denial of freedom — that road is named Unity. And it’s the way to make faith, all faiths, work for social justice, for all.