The Rev. Wallis hosted Interfaith America’s launch event on Tuesday, May 10, at the Center for Faith and Justice at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He gave the following welcoming remarks:
This is a launch, and an inauguration of Interfaith America. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Interfaith Youth Core, which many of us have known and loved for these two decades. But this is not just a name change, but a transition, and evolution, and a further, deeper articulation of an interfaith voice and vision for America.
For us, at the Center on Faith and Justice, this is a natural event to host and convene – public gatherings, private ones, and special events like this one to strengthen and sustain the role of faith for justice in a nation that critically needs it. And it is an honor to host this event on behalf of my dear friend, Eboo Patel, who I have known since the very beginning of IFYC and have enjoyed a long-standing partnership and friendship.
Eboo has been and continues to be for me a great sign of hope for “the faith that does justice,” which is actually a Jesuit mission statement on banners all round this campus. Neither Eboo nor I are Jesuits, but I know that Georgetown University is smiling on both of us being here today. What I’ve always admired about IFYC, and now Interfaith America, is the hopeful vision that an organization articulates and then makes real through its work. We were honored to work as collaborators in the recent Covid-19 vaccine mobilization when Interfaith America joined the Faiths4Vaccines efforts that we helped coordinate. What was already becoming Interfaith America immediately understood the opportunity for multifaith engagement around a critical moment of national crisis. They mobilized their network quickly and effectively to take concrete action around an urgent national priority.
It’s this kind of meaningful action that shows the nation what’s possible when we think about our nation’s religious diversity, not as a threat, but as a fundamental gift and strength. Together, we were able to help with critical issues of vaccine access and hesitancy among vulnerable populations, according to the White House and many others. Today’s hopeful event is an opportunity to reflect both on the idea and the possibilities of Interfaith America, as an organization and as an aspiration. We are all part of that aspiration, our voices are part of the vision, and our hands are part of making the vision real. Thank you for being with us today, and thank you for your part in building Interfaith America.
Some suggested I tell a story, so I will. Many years ago, a young man walked into the Sojourners office in Washington D.C., and said, “I have come across the country to see Jim Wallis! Is he here?” A startled staff member replied, “Well, Jim is here today, but he just came home from a 30-day book tour and has lots of appointments – and you will have to make one! But his young man was not to be deterred, which many would come to know soon. When I finally got home that night about 9 p.m., after a long day, that same young man was sitting on the stoop of my community house, having figured out where I lived, and said to me, “My name is Eboo Patel and I have traveled across the country to see you (well, from Chicago). Can you give me just 10 minutes of your time?” I agreed, we talked for more than 10 minutes that night; and we have had countless more than 10-minute conversations since. Those many talks together were about the vision for organizations, then the starting of organizations, then the management of staff, and the raising of money. They became about the balance between traveling to speak; time to write; and running an organization at home – for what was becoming a movement. How does a leader raise up other leaders?
And then, after new and joyous moments, how to be a good husband and father, especially as a public figure. I remember calling him once on a Thanksgiving Day; to say how thankful I was for him; which became an emotional call together. What I most admire about Eboo Patel, and most deeply agree with him about, is his understanding that just coming together as interfaith leaders and people is important, but simply not enough. Coming together across the boundaries of our many faith traditions is indeed good for our better understanding of each other, but the world needs more from us. And the God who comes to us in many names, also wants more from us than just hanging out together. Coming together is good – but doing what our faiths call us to say and do is better. And what we can do together is so important – especially in the days ahead.
The world needs a better understanding of what diverse faith traditions can bring; but our interfaith actions are needed even more. The world needs our faith, and we must find the courage to act on it, even when that could become risky and costly. Just a few examples: The crucial global vaccinations that are critically needed now, will require interfaith leaders to make that happen. Reversing the dangerous direction of climate change needs our many faith traditions understanding of creation and our being faithful stewards of it–against all the powers of economic self-interests. With migration and immigration becoming a global way of life, only the faiths that treat the stranger and the other as neighbors can overcome our human tribalism. With global inequality causing such great suffering and undermining global stability, we must name and obey all our faith tradition’s prophets who are ready and willing to judge nations by the way they treat the poorest and most vulnerable in their midst.
And, finally, with democracy literally at stake, the spiritual foundation for a multi-racial future will be led by those who believe all human beings were made in the image and likeness of God; and battles over things like voting rights will become a test of not only of democracy, but also a test of faith, and will determine the authenticity and future of our all our faith communities. So, this world needs our faith as interfaith people and leaders. And that is also what God requires of us. And we must come together to do that in the difficult days ahead. The word “blessing” means favor and protection. So let us close today with a blessing for Interfaith America and the key role it could play at this key time in our history. In all our traditions let us say Amen!
The Rev. Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners and the author of 12 books, is the Director of the Georgetown University Center on Faith and Justice.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life