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.

Books Social Justice

Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Learning How to Make a Difference

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s forthcoming publication, Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice, we invited Rabbi Karen R. Perolman, to share an excerpt of the chapter that she wrote.

What prevents us from directly and regularly engaging in social justice work? So many of us want to make a difference and help to repair what is broken in our world, and yet, it can often feel overwhelming. Instead of doing anything, we feel paralyzed; we sit at home reading articles or watching other people’s actions posted on social media. What can push us past thought toward action? In my experience and opinion, the tipping point for action is training. Social justice classes, seminars, groups—all the different intentional experiences that fall under the category of “trainings”—are essential to move us from the mere desire to act to actual action. Through these trainings, participants gain community, confidence, and concrete knowledge in order to act with purpose and presence.

Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice — Now available for pre-order.

I recommend to every reader that they go and seek out a training opportunity in order to gain the concrete knowledge, help see themselves as part of a community, and gain the inner confidence needed to stand up to systemic oppression.


Trainings are the perfect environment to create organic community. Instead of forcing a group of people to come together, trainings attract like-minded individuals who are both open to and interested in learning. Since trainings are often held in university, religious, or communal spaces, they will appeal to those who are already active in their community. A social justice training also often appeals to those with a curious and interested mind-set. These may be individuals who not only want to participate in civil and communal life, but also are seeking relationships with others like them. These may be those who are already active in their individual faith or area community or who are likely to go beyond their safe and comfortable circles. One of the tremendous benefits of attending training is the interwoven circles of community to which each participant becomes immediately connected.

Through the single act of attending one training, one can become linked in what I think of as a shalshelet hatikkun, a chain of repair that has the power to right the wrongs of our world through thoughtful and direct action.


Confidence is often tied to our own sense of self, and often our lack of confidence is connected to our having experienced powerlessness. Trainings create the opportunity for dedicated, passionate individuals to work through their own experiences of oppression, inequality, or trauma so that they might find their own inner strength. In order to speak truth to power, it is essential for those in positions of leadership in community organizations to have insight and reflection regarding their own feelings of power and powerlessness. Through multi-day trainings, one can first work through one’s own personal experiences and then build the self-confidence that will be critical in the work of organizing and justice.

Concrete knowledge

More than ever, information on every subject is available almost immediately in the palms of our hands. Despite the relative ease by which we can access information on every facet of social justice, the dissemination of misinformation can be just as prevalent. In the age of googling experts, there is nothing that feels as authentic as going to an IRL training session with live professionals whose goal is not to pass on information about issues or policy, but to impart knowledge about how a group of dedicated individuals can effect constructive change.

In short, here are three reasons to attend a community organizing or social justice training:

  1. To learn firsthand from experts and seasoned organizers.
  2. To take the opportunity to rehearse, build confidence, and work through any personal baggage.
  3. To meet like-minded individuals and build community.

In the years since I attended that first IAF training, I have found myself in many similar rooms focused on training as passing on the knowledge born of experience.  Every time I walk out of those rooms—often at the end of a long day or days—I always have the same feelings: humility for all that I do not know, hunger to make a difference, and a sense of hurry to get to work. After all, the world isn’t going to fix itself.

Rabbi Karen R. Perolman serves Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey, and is a contributor to CCAR Press’s forthcoming publication, Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice, now available for pre-order.