Selma and The Need for More Interfaith Community Organizing

Near the end of the new movie, Selma, I witness how people from different faith gather together for the march to Birmingham. In these scenes, people from different faiths from across the country come together to stand with the people of Selma and the civil rights leaders to make a bigger statement to the oppressive powers that controlled Selma and Alabama in the 1960s. The valuable lesson I receive from the Selma is how critical it is to have interfaith groups working together to end injustice.

Group Hands Up! Photo after the Selma Screening in Greensboro

Group Hands Up! Photo after the Selma Screening in Greensboro Image via April Parker

Last Wednesday, shortly before Selma was nationally released, I watched the film at a community event in Greensboro, NC, one of the several #SelmaHandinHand screenings hosted by Paramount Pictures and community groups across the South. In the audience, there were people from across the faith spectrum: Muslims students, Christians campus ministers, retired Jewish professors, all sitting together to watch this film. This is the kind of diversity that is often missing in the larger movements today that are trying to work to fight current injustices in our communities.

During my first year of seminary I took a class on theology and community organizing taught by an ethics professor, Dr. John Bowlin, and Rev Jarret Kerbel, an Episcopal Rector from Philadelphia, who has been active in interfaith community organizing. Through their teaching, readings, and guest speakers, we heard about the amazing work that the Gamaliel Foundation, Industrial Areas Foundation, and PICO National Network are doing in communities across the country through their local interfaith affiliates. The class showed me about the critical need for faith communities to be involved with each other to fight systemic issues facing communities.

Yes, I have seen interfaith movement-building happening in response to Ferguson, during the Occupy Wall Street Movement and with immigration reform. But more can and should be done! We need to start working together more to tackle these issues! Organizations like Gamaliel, IAF and PICO create wonderful opportunities for diverse communities to come together to work for these valuable causes in our own communities.

Yet, many churches do not participate in these networks. Even within my own faith community, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), few Quaker congregations are involved with these interfaith community organizing groups. Mostly, I have seen apathetic opposition from Quakers across the country to joining with local interfaith community organizing groups. The complaints have largely centered around local congregations feeling led to work on issues that they do not feel that the wider community would not support.

This attitude does not just appear within the Quaker community. This is the time to step aside our personal priorities and agenda, in order to make connections and find common ground to make larger societal gains.


Still from Selma movie via Virtual Jerusalem

We need to work together to start fighting systemic issues that faces our community if we can achieve anything like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in our time. This is the lesson I received from Selma that is still relevant even 50 years later.

Is your place of worship involved with interfaith groups fighting against injustice in your own community?

If not, check out these websites to find the group(s) near you and get your faith community involved:

If there is not a group, like Greensboro NC where I currently live, look for #BlackLivesMatter events as a place where people from different faiths are starting to organize around in absence of formal organizations or networks.

It is time to organize our faith communities!


5 thoughts on “Selma and The Need for More Interfaith Community Organizing

  1. I really appreciated this post, Greg. Friends certainly need to join not only interfaith movements but also social justice movements. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel or do social justice work solely among Friends, we need to support/join existing movements/networks in order to show solidarity, learn from others, and increase the effectiveness and the impact of our efforts.

    My recent post on Acting in Faith poses a similar question:

    We are also trying to provide Friends with a model that comes to us by way of Unitarian congregations in Denver (influenced by the ideas of Parker Palmer) that is a framework for partnering with local social justice organizations:

    Thank you for sharing! Blessings!

  2. as relatively new Friends of about a year, it has been our experience that it takes painfully long for the Meeting to discern and make a decision, so Friends go on and do good works with others from a wide variety of faith traditions without speaking for the “Meeting” as a whole. There are several of us from St.Louis Meeting who have been active on the streets and in mass meetings since the killing of Michael Brown in “our town” and the Meetinghouse has been open to the community where many faiths come together for conversations, meetings and White Witness planning groups. Spirit leads with many voices. Some of my/our work is deep listening and to remember that I am a white ally in the Black Liberation Movement, following Black leadership as Spirit resonates in my heart. THank you for the encouragement to widen the circle of faiths for effective actions!

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