Books interfaith Social Justice

Learning to Speak the Language of Faith Again

In 2017, a newly elected conservative Congress introduced legislation that would have stripped 40 million Americans of health insurance. Within days, hundreds of clergy from all over the country gathered at the U.S. Capitol to oppose the bill, calling it a Death Bill. In this first of many actions to come, we packed the hallway outside Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s office. One by one, Jews, Christians and Muslims read from our sacred texts and told the stories of those who would suffer and die from these cuts. At the end of the protest, a lay leader looked at me with the eyes of one standing on holy ground and said, “I feel like I am learning how to speak the language of faith again.”

Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice, edited by Rabbi Seth Limmer and Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, empowers religious leaders and activists to boldly speak the language of faith in this challenging moment in our nation’s history. In part one, leading Jewish scholars lay a scriptural foundation to wrestle with the critical issues of our time. Part two shares organizing strategies from cutting-edge Jewish advocacy leaders.

As we advocate for justice, we must recognize that powerful people in our midst seek to implement policies motivated by greed, Social Darwinism, and the ties of “blood and soil” rather than love of neighbor. Our voices, grounded in scriptures that instruct us honor the image of the divine in every person, welcome the stranger, and proclaim the year of Jubilee provide a powerful antidote. God calls us to resist tyranny — to never forget our own vulnerability and oppression because we too were once slaves in Egypt. To preserve these teachings and values, we must be well-organized and courageous, and loudly speak the language of faith.

As a Presbyterian pastor who leads an interfaith network of clergy, I see firsthand the richness and power of this nation’s diverse faith and moral traditions. Each one brings unique wisdom to bear on how we live together. Even as we speak the unique language of our own faith, our unity is powerful. We don’t need to have the same talking points and theology to march under the same banner for the same cause.

Our moral vision is critical for the survival of our communities and our nation. We must be articulate and bold in communicating these to the public. And we must be strategic as we organize resistance to rising white nationalism, growing inequality and the oppression of religious, sexual and racial minorities. I keep this book close at hand as I seek to meet the challenges of the present moment. I urge you to read it, and I look forward to seeing you lifting up your voices on the streets, and in the halls of power.

Reverend Jennifer Butler serves as the CEO of Faith in Public Life. She was also Chair of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships during the Obama administration.

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