The first installment in our series Civil Rights at a Crossroads explores the link between spirituality and our fraught politics.
April 6, 2023
We’ve all seen the headlines and tweets. Our country and our civil rights are at a crossroads, with basic rights and freedoms under attack.
Unfortunately, none of this is new. Today’s fight for civil rights echoes much of what we saw in the 1960s. We continue to wrestle with an enormous racial wealth gap, political disenfranchisement, and glaring disparities in health, education, employment, and housing among people of color.
Even worse, we’re watching many of the most significant protections against discrimination — like voting rights for Black people and other people of color, women’s rights, and LGBTQ+ rights, especially for transgender youth — erode in the courts and legislatures.
Our new event series, Civil Rights at a Crossroads: Igniting Activism for Racial and Economic Justice, is an opportunity to explore these issues while revisiting lessons from the past — and to drive action for change. Our founder, Sargent Shriver, used values-based leadership to build bridges and coalitions to move from war to peace.
The first event in the series, Leading with our Values, Learning from the Past, focused on the role of faith-based institutions in spurring activism for racial and economic justice. Shriver Center President & CEO Audra Wilson moderated a conversation with Dr. Rami Nashashibi, founder and executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network; Dr. Jamie Price, founding executive director of the Sargent Shriver Peace Institute; and Rabbi Toba Spitzer, who has served Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in Newton, Massachusetts, for over 25 years.
Here are three key insights from our three panelists.
There is an important distinction between religious affiliation and spiritual openness. Dr. Jamie Price’s recent book, Spiritualizing Politics Without Politicizing Religion, highlights the spiritual component of Sargent Shriver’s efforts to improve institutional structures and solve social problems. “Sarge understood organizing for change to be an intrinsically spiritual effort,” he said. “Through the Peace Corps, legal services, and the War on Poverty, he set people up to live and work in a way that opened opportunities for self-transcendence. Tapping into that spiritual energy is necessary to sustain the hard work toward justice.”
We must restore faith in government and our ability to solve big problems together. Just 20% of Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center. Rabbi Toba Spitzer reflected on the Jewish teaching of covenant, and the obligations we have both to God and one another. “We must challenge ourselves to consider, ‘Who am I in covenant with?’” said Rabbi Spitzer. “When we extend our sense of obligation beyond ourselves, we deepen our connection to one another, and stand in solidarity with one another.” Rabbi Spitzer noted that this pushes against the hyper-individualistic narrative that dominates American culture.
Community organizing has reinvigorated faith as a force for transformation. Dr. Rami Nashashibi emphasized the importance of community organizing in many faith communities. “Community organizing puts people in direct conversation with the political leaders responsible for the laws and policies that affect our lives,” Nashashibi said. “Although this work is difficult, and can often be overwhelming, it is at the crux of preserving a vibrant, relevant democracy, especially for communities most directly affected by a sense of alienation and disempowerment.”
Certainly, there are many ways to lead a life committed to peace and justice. Each of our panelists affirmed that when we seek to truly see one another, recognize that we are all engaging in a common struggle, and hold one another accountable for our shared values, we can make transformational change.
In our next installment May 4, 2023, we’ll discuss the intersection of history, education, and critical race theory.