Friday, November 19, 2010

Interfaith Relational Power For The Common Good

The Episcopal Church is involved in interfaith broad based community organizing in Reno and the Las Vegas Valley. Our efforts are really quite simple, but people have a hard time grasping it. This is such a different approach to our common life that it is like speaking a foreign language. It isn't starting with a divisive issue and gathing the people who agree to fight with the other side. Interfaith organizing believes relationships and knowledge lead to a different kind of power -- relational power to heal society instead of dominating power for win-lose controversies. It is a different way of being a people together. The statment below is how I explained our goals to a meeting of Las Vegas Valley Interfaith attended by 254 people from 72 different churches, mosques, and synagogues two weeks ago.

From what Charles Redmond has told you
of our accomplishments so far,
you can see we are here to do something new
– something different.
We are here to change things at a deeper level than usual.

Usually when we set out to do some public good, we start with an issue.
People who care about the same issue
get together, take a stand, win or lose, then go home and forget it.
Relationships have not been formed.
People have connected to causes, not each other.
The basic pattern of fragmented, broken community has not been changed.

This is different.
Instead of starting with issues, we start with people.
We are forming a network of relationships
among Las Vegas Valley people who ordinarily
would not know each other.
I have new friends here I would not have known
and my life is already the better for it.
We intentionally cross the lines of race, religion, and politics.
We are Muslims and Catholics, Methodists and Jews.
We are Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Independents.
We are black, white, brown, and Asian.

We are knitting together this diverse community
by hearing each others’ stories.
We are learning together how our government,
our economy, and our schools work
so we can make them work better.

We have no ideology except grass roots democracy
– common people taking responsibility for our common life
– and working for our common good.
We will stand shoulder to shoulder to meet the issues of this decade,
and we will still be standing shoulder to shoulder
in the next decade when new issues arise.
Divided, we are too politically weak to make our voices heard.

But together, we can make a difference
in the foreclosure crisis, the decline of our schools,
the plight of families in which a member is undocumented.

This Organization has a broad but clear purpose
– a better life for families.
Our Valley is not yet a family friendly place.
We have children in Las Vegas growing up
-- some on the streets; some in rent-by-the-week motels
-- children without a sliver of a chance.
We are an international hub of human trafficking.
Young lives are being derailed by gangs.
Tonight, you have heard some of the stories
about how life goes wrong here
for children, youth, and the elderly.

But together we can make this Valley blossom
for all our families and all our faiths --
just as broad based community organizations have done in Phoenix,
Tucson, San Antonio, San Diego, Nasville, Charlotte, New Orleans.
Las Vegas is next.

This big job takes broad-based, long term commitment.
To be stable and strong, we have to stand on our own feet.
We have to be self-supporting and self-sustaining.
That means we need the churches, mosques, and synagogues
to sign on, to commit both time and money,
just like we expect the people in our congregations
to sign on and commit.

We all have other pressing demands on our time and our budget.
But you have heard the stories and there are countless more.
What are these lives worth to us?
What are the children, the elderly,
and ordinary families worth?
What is it worth to set our Valley free to flourish?

Churches, mosques, and synagogues cannot change this Valley
if we remain divided -- feeding a hungry person here,
speaking out on a particular issue there.
But together, we can be a formidable force for the common good –
built to last, uniting people of all races and faiths as friends.

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