If you talk to Josh Dickson, the Faith Director for the Biden / Harris Campaign, for five minutes, you are likely to hear the word ‘listening’ ten times and the word ‘relationships’ twenty.
I spoke with Josh earlier this week for a webinar that IFYC did with our circle of college students, young alumni, and campus educators. We are in the final push of a historic presidential campaign, and it deeply struck me that Josh seemed more interested in telling the story of America’s higher purpose than he was in pushing his candidate’s particular policy views.
And for Josh, the only way for America to achieve its higher purpose is if all Americans have a chance to achieve their higher purpose. And that has everything to do with the words ‘listening’ and ‘relationships’.
Josh grew up in an Evangelical household in upstate New York. He went to church several times a week, and his family participated in faith-based service projects regularly. He carried this identity with him to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he joined an Evangelical group called Campus Crusade for Christ and sought to bring people into its membership. One ingenious strategy that he came up with was to get a job in the cafeteria where he would see, and be able to strike up a conversation with, virtually everybody in the residence hall.
What he discovered was that he had a gift for building relationships and that he loved listening to people as much as he liked sharing his views with them. The stories people told Josh about their lives changed him, deepening his faith, and expanding it at the same time.
Josh brought this gift of listening and relating with him to the south side of Chicago after graduation, where he served as both a teacher with Teach for America and a community organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation. It was more listening and building relationships, except this time in majority-minority neighborhoods that didn’t have a fraction of the resources that Josh’s friends had at the University of Michigan. This set of stories deepened and expanded Josh’s faith in new ways. He began to ask questions about what Jesus would do when confronted with stark deprivation and inequality. The answer seemed pretty clear to him: try to build a world where people from all backgrounds thrived, with a special emphasis on those being marginalized. That’s why Josh says that systemic racism is the central religious issue of the election. He has seen up close and personal how institutionalized discrimination harms people.
Along the way, he ran into folks from IFYC (this was news to me, I think the webinar participants might have heard me audibly gasp when Josh shared it) and started to build relationships with people from a range of religious traditions who connected faith and service in their lives. Listening to the stories of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, secular humanists, and others again deepened his faith and expanded his idea of what it meant to have a community of people who were building a world where everybody can thrive.
It is precisely why he is part of a campaign where the goal is to build the most inclusive, diverse religious coalition of any campaign that can both win an election and also govern by broad consensus afterward.