By Aaron Stauffer
SEEKING JUSTICE IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
The moments are few and far between when senior-level religious leaders of most religious communities get the chance to spend a whole day with grassroots community organizers working to end structural racism and religious prejudice.
Religions for Peace USA’s Council of Presidents was afforded that chance on March 26th. As Lena and Greg (two young leaders with the group that day) share in the video to the right, an overall sense that we are in a historical moment now, where religious communities can and need to make substantial changes to our society. This was nothing short than a call for religious communities to again lead the way, much like the Christian community did in the early 1900s during the early Social Gospel movement.
Religions for Peace USA gathered top leaders to begin to answer the question, What role can religious communities play in building a new movement for justice?
What we heard was fascinating and insightful:
- There was a call for a straightforward exposition of how the criminal justice system we now have in this country expresses and encodes violence and racism by means of trauma, humiliation, constant surveillance, exclusion, torture, and the militarization of policing.
- Religious leaders expressed a need for a word about the role of religion (white Protestantism mainly) in helping to reinforce stigma, exclusion, and a punishment-only system (while also acknowledging the potential counter-force of good religion). In short, we noted the need to mark how religion is all over this territory, albeit not always in obvious ways.
- We need a clear statement of what is to be done within the religious sphere to expand the quantum of good religion and strengthen its real-world impact.
So, who was with us exactly?
- Twenty heads of communion representing all the major religious communities and many more
- Ten national community organizers and trainers from organizations such as PICO National Network, Gamaliel, Center for Community Change, Black Lives Matter, Justice not Jails, and others
- More than ten voices from the younger generation of peace and justice-makers.
- Three foundations who are allies supporting and funding this work
- Organization allies and partners working in multi-religious peace and justice-making.
We left more deeply committed to working across organizational boundaries to cooperate and move together. We recognized a need for a new vocabulary, based in our many different traditions of faith and goodwill, that can call out injustices in our world and provide direction to be peacebuilders in moments of crisis.
This initial meeting will lead to collective action together. Sometimes taking this first step of exploring the problems we collectively face is the most important step.