After 20 Years and 600 Campuses, an Interfaith Movement Broadens its Vision
May 10, 2022
Interfaith America Founder and President Eboo Patel gave the following remarks today (May 10, 2022) at an event celebrating the official launch of Interfaith America. The Center on Faith and Justice in the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy hosted the event in the university’s historic Riggs Library.
I believe this is an important day in the history of American religion, and it is made even more special by the fact that this event is being hosted by the Rev. Jim Wallis at Georgetown University.
Georgetown is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit University in the United States. It expresses its faith by inviting students and faculty of all faiths to gather and thrive. It is committed to being the kind of civic community that nurtures not just coexistence, but cooperation and a common life together. Georgetown hosted our first Interfaith Leadership Institutes over a decade ago and also several of our gatherings of college presidents. This campus is a laboratory for Interfaith America, and a launching pad for leaders who will bring that vision to the nation. We cannot think of a better place to help inaugurate the next chapter of our Institution.
And Rev. Wallis, I read “The Soul of Politics” when I was a second-year student at the University of Illinois in 1995. I came to Washington, D.C., that summer, stayed at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House and showed up to Sojourners without an appointment, looking to meet you. The receptionist told me that you were too busy, but I wasn’t discouraged. I looked up your address, went to your house and sat on your porch, waiting for you to arrive home. That was the first chapter in a conversation that has lasted nearly three decades. You have shown me – and the nation and the world – what faith in action for the benefit of all looks like.
The United States is the world’s first attempt at religiously diverse democracy — and the most religiously diverse nation in human history.
We are trying to do something that has never done before: become a truly inclusive multiracial, multiethnic, interfaith nation.
Watch the Launch Event
Interfaith Youth Core is now Interfaith America
Will faith express itself as a barrier of division, a bludgeon of domination or a bridge of cooperation?
Will our religious diversity contribute to our fragmentation, or will it strengthen our trust and cohesion?
Will we become an ever-expanding city on a hill – our mosques and churches, our temples and gurudwaras, our synagogues and sanghas and secular humanist societies working toward a common life together? Or will we be at each other’s throats?
I believe the fate of the American experiment — indeed the prospects for diverse democracy around the world — rests on the answer to these questions.
Every great issue in American life – civil liberties, racial equity, environmental stewardship, women’s empowerment – has one or more vital civic institutions dedicated to its advancement.
The goal of Interfaith America the institution is to partner with organizations across sectors, and people of all faiths and philosophies, to strengthen interfaith America the nation.
We make this change — announce this graduation, if you will — in our 20th year of operations as a formal organization. In that time, we have built a network of 600 campuses actively advancing interfaith cooperation, published eight books and hundreds of articles, trained thousands of leaders, run programs in partnership with the White House and Fortune 100 companies, been on stages with presidents and in church basements with emerging leaders, played our part in addressing national crises from vaccination to racial justice, polarization to climate change.
The young people we met on campuses a decade or more ago are now influential clergy, government officials, organizational leaders, award-winning authors. All of us dedicated to one dream – the dream of Interfaith America. A shared sacred story where we all thrive.
Our work on campuses and with student leaders will continue, indeed grow. We add to that interfaith work in health, in tech, in racial equity, in the growing movement of bridgebuilding, with government agencies and private companies. Next Tuesday we will be with Vice President Al Gore and a group of religiously diverse African American leaders discussing the intersection of interfaith cooperation, racial equity and environmental stewardship. The next day we will launch our Vote is Sacred initiative alongside President Bush in Dallas.
In his final sermon, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. imagined himself floating over the course of human history, wondering in which era he would most like to live.
He floats past Moses parting the Red Sea; past Socrates, Aristotle and Plato teaching in Athens; past Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. He selects the era in which God has chosen to place him — the 1960s. He is fully aware of the tumult and divisiveness of his times. But he believes that God is moving in a special way in that moment, and a real difference can be made in the life of the nation and the history of the world.
I feel much the same way now. There are indeed gathering dangers on the national landscape. But America has always been defined by the response of its best people to its worst elements.
I am reminded particularly of the ugly antisemitism and anti-Catholicism of the 1920s, and how a group of interfaith leaders gathered to say no to religious bigotry and yes to interfaith cooperation. They spread their civic activities around the nation, and they gave us the gift of a new national narrative: Judeo-Christian.
Judeo-Christian did good work for nearly a century. Today, we begin a new chapter. A chapter called interfaith America.
“The United States is the world’s first attempt at religiously diverse democracy… We are trying to do something that has never done before: become a truly inclusive multiracial, multiethnic, interfaith nation.” @EbooPatel #InterfaithAmerica pic.twitter.com/dyqNrh11F0— Interfaith America (@interfaithusa) May 10, 2022