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‘The Fierce Urgency of Now’

Reimagining Interfaith: July 29-August 1

‘The Fierce Urgency of Now’

by Bud Heckman

A question for you:

Why isn’t the movement for interfaith cooperation seen and taken as seriously and central in our societies as are other movements for social justice and the common good, such as race, gender, abilities, the environment, and so on?

Arguably, it is as important as those concerns. So why?

You can argue that interfaith is a younger movement. You can argue that religion is “private” or holds a different place in the mind’s eye for many. You can say that identities are deeply reinforced by the mechanics of our lower brain, against reason and even in the face of facts. There are many explanations and excuses, but what are the possible solutions?

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a stinging speech in which he urged the American people to recognize “the fierce urgency of now” for social justice, especially around issues of race and poverty. He said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” Ashamedly, his words ring true for race and poverty now more than ever. They also are true on many other social fronts.

  Photo:    Max Pixel

Photo: Max Pixel

The tensions in our societies over  differences of worldview leave many of us with great anxiety. The challenges of doing something constructive in the face of it all can seem overwhelming. UC Berkeley scholar of economics and public policy Robert Reich says that because of how we are hardwired as humans, we tend into four syndromes in the face of such tensions: normalizing things, numbing to the outrage, becoming cynical, or feeling helpless and paralyzed. But the only way to tackle huge problems is with hope, persistence, determination, and strategic cooperation. To do something, even small steps. And to get with others seeking to do the same. To analyze what is effective and what is not. To get to the right audiences with accessible messages that can change hearts and win minds.

Tensions over religious differences and a lack of understanding, respect, and (dare we say) appreciation for the religious “other” represent an important and sharp divide in our societies. At this moment in history, they represent an especially thorny problem that bleeds into all facets of life. Advancing interfaith is a very thick intersectional thread to be handled in any efforts to make a better world. If we are honest, the interfaith movement has a lot of work to do in terms of making itself more central in the public’s eye and its impact more felt.

There is, therefore, a fierce urgency of now for the young and growing movement for interfaith understanding and cooperation. Religious discrimination, hatred, and violence plague our civil societies. We have to do something and we have to do more but we also have to do what we are doing in smarter, more efficient, and more coordinated ways.

Doing Something Now

Over a year ago a host of leading interfaith organizations began conversations with one another about convening a conference where we analyzed and worked on the most pressing issues the interfaith movement has to work through in order to become a more vital force. We were led and encouraged initially by an invitation for partnership from the old grand dame of interfaith, the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), which wanted to hold a  global gathering, and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), which has been a long-standing ally with IARF. Rather than just help IARF with its global assembly, UUA bravely suggested taking a bigger look at what was going on with interfaith cooperation and inviting others to join them in doing so. Quickly other organizations joined, becoming the largest collaborative effort among organizations in the field of interfaith cooperation to create a conference that I can recall.

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The Reimagining Interfaith conference was born out of these conversations. It will be hosted July 29-August 1 at George Washington University in Washington D.C. Several hundred participants are expected and registrations are already strong. It will focus on skill-building, networking, and organizing and explore the larger questions of what we need to do now as a movement to be more effective and impactful.

Rabbi David Saperstein, Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, and Rev. Jennifer Bailey will headline the opening,  inviting us all to think about what it means to “reimagine interfaith.” There are five major program tracks, as well as a kid’s track:

  1. Cultivating Religious Communities in the Face of Discrimination;
  2. Community Organizing: Initiating and Sustaining Social Change Movements;
  3. Stay Woke: Recognizing Privilege, Challenging Systematic Oppression;
  4. Interfaith Organizing in a Changing Spiritual Landscape;
  5. Making a Movement: Bringing Interfaith to the Next Level; and
  6. A Special Kids Track for 5-14-year-olds

The next two issues of The Interfaith Observer will feature stories and pieces by some of the presenters and thought leaders involved in the conference. We hope you will add your voice to the important conversations and participate in the conference, joining us as we act on the “fierce urgency of now” in the movement for interfaith cooperation.