The List: Interfaith America’s Top 9 Interfaith Stories of 2022
December 31, 2022
Was 2022 a year characterized by religious division or religious cooperation in the United States? It depends on where you look — and how you look at America’s highly diverse and complex religious landscape. Division is easy to find, but collaboration is a key part of the narrative as well.
To help us identify the top interfaith stories of 2022, we turned to the experts: journalists who cover religion for media sites across the nation and our colleagues at Interfaith America, who spend their days working with a national network of educators, students, health care professionals, corporate executives and community members to build interfaith connections and leadership skills.
What makes a story an interfaith story? Interfaith America defines it this way: a story that highlights religious cooperation and positively engages religious diversity, even in the presence of tension and conflict. We take a special interest in stories that prioritize racial equity and highlight bridgebuilders whose worldview or faith inspires them to engage. We received dozens of suggestions and narrowed them down to these: Interfaith America’s top 9 interfaith stories of 2022.
- In an historic ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1963 case that had affirmed a constitutional right to abortion. The June ruling returned the power over abortion policies to the states, and by mid-December, a dozen states had enacted abortion bans and others passed a record of number laws to protect abortion providers and guarantee access to the procedure. The issue is divisive, but it’s not one that pits religious and secular Americans against one another. “It’s an interfaith movement on both sides of the issue, which is relatively uncommon,” says Emily D. Crews, assistant director of the University of Chicago’s Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion. The Pew Religious Landscape Study shows that evangelical Christians, Catholics, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and religious “nones” stand together on either side of the issue. While conservative religious coalitions lobbied to overturn Roe, progressive religious coalitions mobilized to combat state-level restrictions. There is no single religious or secular view on the issue, and Crews points out that deeply devout people disagree if abortion should be legal in all cases. “It’s dangerous as a thinking person to ever assume there is a single perspective for any community, no matter how small,” Crews says. “And if you want to talk about Catholics or evangelical Christians in the United States, it’s a smart move automatically to assume there’s going to be diversity of thought on any issue.”
- Targeted, local outreach helped get COVID-19 vaccines to Americans in 2022, and faith groups joined – and sometimes led – these efforts. Clinics continued to pop up in churches, synagogues and mosque parking lots, and religious leaders played a role in building trust and spreading accurate information about the vaccine in their communities. Bringing vaccines into neighborhoods that needed it most helped reverse large racial gaps in COVID-19 death rates and was one of 2022’s public health success stories. “What I love about this story is that it shows that when we acknowledge our differences – disparities included – we can actually change the trajectory of tragedy,” says LaTanya Lane, Director of the Interfaith Leadership Institute at Interfaith America. “And because the problem was so complex it was exactly the kind of problem that the constructive engagement of diversity is best situated to solve.”
- When a rabbi was held hostage at his Colleyville, Texas, synagogue, the incident made national news – and so did the interfaith leaders in his Dallas-area community that helped hostage negotiators end the crisis peacefully. Pastor Bob Roberts of the evangelical Christian Northwood Church, Muslim leader Omar Suleiman and neighboring Jewish and Catholic leaders stepped up to provide key support for Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, his family and community. Their interfaith relationships proved crucial in a moment of crisis, and they continue to endure. “In Dallas, after the cameras and attention move on, we will care for those affected and break bread together, inshaAllah,” Suleiman wrote for Religion News Service.
- Welcoming the stranger is a universal principle, and in 2022, religious groups across the spectrum played a crucial role in refugee resettlement, from Southern Baptists and Jews to Muslim, Christian and interfaith groups helping Ukrainian and Afghan refugees fleeing war or providing support to families at the U.S./Mexican border fleeing violence and poverty.
- An epidemic of gun violence across the nation brought interfaith coalitions together in 2022 to demand politicians enact tighter gun control legislation. Some examples: Local groups like the Kingston Interfaith Council in upstate New York called upon neighbors and law enforcement officials to work for an assault weapons ban, and Texas clergy mobilized after 19 children and two teachers were shot to death inside an elementary school in Uvalde.
- In a politically polarized time, religious leaders and faith-inspired activists from across a spectrum of traditions stepped up to embrace bridgebuilding, grass-roots effort to heal divides, combat bigotry and build understanding across differences. At a September summit at the White House called “United We Stand,” survivors of racially and religiously-motivated hate crimes gathered with activists to work for solutions. One outcome: The leaders of four civic institutions — Interfaith America, Catholic Charities USA, YMCA of the USA and Habitat for Humanity International – announced a joint effort to train community-based “bridgebuilders” to heal divisions across the nation.
- Indigenous people representing a variety of worldviews and faith traditions worked together in 2022 to preserve sacred land and expose crimes committed at government and church-run boarding schools for Native American children. A federal study launched by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and the first Native American cabinet secretary, exposed crimes and identified 408 schools in 38 states or territories.
- Religious diversity in Washington, D.C., was a big story in 2022. Joe Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, and Vice President Kamala Harris, the daughter of a Hindu who grew up attending a Christian church, both opened their doors to celebrate America’s religious diversity. The White House hosted its first interfaith Diwali gathering in October; Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish, hosted a Hanukkah party; and Biden debuted the first official White House menorah, crafted from wood reclaimed from the White House itself.
- Religion showed up in American pop culture in new ways in 2022, with the debut of new television shows giving more diverse and nuanced perspectives on religion. Standouts include “Mo” and the second season of “Bridgerton,” both on Netflix; “Ms. Marvel” on Disney+; and Starz’s “P-Valley.” To learn more about this phenomenon, Interfaith America interviewed Azhar Usman, a writer and comedian who’s brought nuance – and humor – to Hollywood’s portrayal of American Muslims.
Monique Parsons is managing editor of Interfaith America Magazine. Silma Suba and Allie Vroegop contributed to this story.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life