Put black at the center of interconfession
(RNS) – Every January, New York City hosts an Interfaith Breakfast that brings together my fellow New Yorkers who are working to improve the lives of people in New York’s five boroughs and beyond.
Gathered under one roof for several hours, representatives of the many different faiths that can be found in our city: Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and so many others come together, not only to celebrate our diversity, but also to address pressing social justice issues, including racial equity, systematic racism and racist policing.
Interfaith coalitions have long championed the causes of racial justice, especially in civil rights movements of the 1960s, and the one in New York is one of hundreds of similar gatherings I have attended in my pastoral life. black Christian.
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Yet interfaith organizations themselves have often not taken racial equity work seriously. Some of the large interfaith organizations of the early 20e century, like the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), either actively discouraged the participation of black leaders or passively signaled their disinterest by ignoring the struggle for racial justice to which their black and brown neighbors and religious leaders were faced.
This despite the interfaith mix that is woven into black history in America into traditional African religious traditions, Islam and Christianity as well as other faiths such as Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, has over 1,000 religious artifacts that demonstrate the extent of expressions of faith among blacks since Africa’s first slaves brought their Muslim faith in this country.
One of the most revealing and important interfaith conversations in our history occurred when two black civil rights leaders, Christian Pastor Martin Luther King Jr. and Muslim leader Malcom X, spoke to each other. Interfaith engagement is best served when the rich and inspiring interfaith history of black people in America is recognized and embraced.
Since beginning my ministry nearly 40 years ago, I have simultaneously made a commitment to work for racial justice and interfaith understanding. I have been encouraged by the similar commitment of so many faith-based organizations that have renewed their focus on racial justice in the past year after the murder of George Floyd.
Over the coming year, Interfaith Youth Core’s Black Interfaith Project will sponsor symposia and produce original work that tells interfaith history from the perspective of black Americans of various religious traditions, as well as no religion.
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We live in a time of terrible division and mistrust. Black Americans, and too many others, continue to suffer from systematic and potentially deadly inequalities. I hope to work alongside black and brown religious leaders from all religious backgrounds who explicitly place racial equity at the center of our work.
I also hope to work to ensure that black people and their concerns are at the center of the larger interfaith movement. My sincere belief is that when we integrate racial equity into interfaith conversations as standard practice, we will build stronger coalitions and achieve a nation that treats people of all religious and racial backgrounds with fairness and respect.
(Reverend Frederick A. Davie is the Senior Advisor for Racial Equity at Interfaith Youth Core and Senior Policy Advisor to the President of Union Theological Seminary. The opinions expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)