Reimagining Interfaith Leadership in Movements for Social Change

Harmeet Kaur Kamboj (they/them) is a Sikh American interfaith organizer, writer, educator, and editor of Faith in Full Color. They are a candidate for the Master of Sacred Theology (STM) at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Harmeet's scholarship centers on the experiences of marginalized communities of faith in the United States and the ways that these communities organize politically. Their public writing has been featured in the Religion News Service, Sojourners, and Interfaith America. Prior to pursuing an STM, Harmeet worked at America Indivisible, the Public Religion Research Institute, and the Campaign for Youth Justice. 

Tyler Coles(they/he) is a  native of Roanoke, VA, and the only child of Monica and Terry. Inspired by the wisdom of their Unitarian Universalist and Wiccan traditions, Tyler believes the best of our individual tasks are in working for collective liberation. They personally engage this mandate through multi-racial organizing, supporting young adults, and movement chaplaincy. Tyler currently serves as the Intern Minister at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, VA and as staff member of the Unitarian Universalist Association where they support faithful leadership across the American South. 

As I sit back and reflect upon the countless conversations and virtual interactions that I have engaged in over the last year, the value that I heard uplifted the most was that of care. And this really isn’t of much surprise. After all, in the last four months alone we have experienced yet another wave of white supremacy, violence, fear, and misinformation. And the honest truth of the matter is – these are not new occurrences. What is new however is the ever-growing number of individuals coming into alignment to provide care. This faithful response calls us into the uncharted space of lending accompaniment throughout the highways and byways of our lives. 

Accompaniment manifests in two ways. First is family care, or more broadly speaking, people care. It is how we show up and show out for those in our immediate circles. For some this rests within the spheres of family and friends, whether they be of blood relation or not. From there exists the realm of “our people,” those who we are in deep relationship with due to shared identities of embodiment, experience, and philosophy. For some, particularly those within historically oppressed communities, these spheres are one in the same, and for others, they are interconnected but not fully overlapping.  

The second form is that of movement care. This deals with how we bring our whole selves, in all of our blessed messiness, to the work of liberation. In bringing our whole selves, we bring all that resides within our herb baskets. These are the skills that we have innately or have developed over time. They aid in our ability to be both sustainable and resilient, imaginative and pragmatic, sharp and smooth, expansive and precise. Movement care prioritizes our collective and individual healing in response to the wounds caused by systemic harm played out on an interpersonal level.  

In light of the urgent need for care within our families, communities, and movements, where can and should interfaith leaders fit in? To ensure that all receive the care they need and deserve, serious change to our social and political structures is needed. Whole movements have been built on the need for authentic care, and interfaith leaders have a responsibility to engage in them. Too often, though, we see ourselves exclusively as spiritual guides and crisis responders. But interfaith caregiving extends beyond these two very specific and sometimes limiting, roles.  

The types of care we offer must align with the diverse spiritual and material needs of our communities. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate this diversity than through scholar-activist Deepa Iyer’s Social Change Ecosystem. Iyer’s model invites us to broaden our understandings of radical care and activism beyond just guidance and crisis response. Instead, Iyer asks us to interrogate what each of us can uniquely bring to the movement. Guides and first responders are, of course, a part of this ecosystem, but so are storytellers, visionaries, caregivers, and many others. All ten of the roles that Iyer outlines in her Ecosystem are integral to building a world grounded in equity, liberation, justice, and solidarity.  

We can interpret Iyer’s model as an invitation to think beyond the roles that we assume we must take on as interfaith leaders. We should “get in where we fit in,” so to speak. Not every interfaith leader is equipped with the skills and resources to guide, to respond, to build, to heal, to disrupt, etc., but many of us have already engaged in one of these skill sets even outside of movement spaces.  

Harmeet, for instance, has a background in the arts. Prior to the pandemic, they never thought to insert their skills as an artist into the movements in which they already took up space. But the reinvigoration of the Movement for Black Lives after the murder of George Floyd, coupled with social distancing restrictions imposed across the country, called Harmeet to engage their artistic communities in new ways. The Faith in Full-Color zine was birthed in light of that, harnessing Harmeet’s existing networks and skills to uplift the voices of those most marginalized in interfaith spaces.  

Tyler, likewise, engages the work of liberation through utilizing the stories, symbols, and rituals of their religious lineages. Taking seriously the knowing that we “can’t be free till we are also spiritually free,” Tyler incorporates both disruptive and healing modalities within their tool kit. This ranges from participating in direct actions in response to police brutality to facilitating healing spaces during the 2019 Presidential Election.  

As we continue to confront the unprecedented stress and fatigue of this moment, it’s natural to feel stuck, as if we’re at the end of our ropes. But our movements grounded in care and mutual aid call us to show up however and whenever we can. It’s not a matter of sacrificing what we don’t have; it’s a matter of harnessing what’s already within us to lean in and live in to our values every day.  

 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

A través de mi experiencia, sé que las familias hispanas han sido gravemente, y desproporcionadamente, afectadas por la pandemia, y los datos de la Encuesta sobre Diversidad Religiosa y Vacunas de 2021 de PRRI-IFYC lo corroboran.
"It is permissible within our religion to defer, or to make up your fast later if you're feeling sick."
From experience, I know that Hispanic families had been greatly, and disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and survey data from the 2021 PRRI-IFYC Religious Diversity and Vaccine Survey corroborates this.
As the last few days of Ramadan are upon us – take our interactive quiz to find out how much you really know about this holy month.
We weren’t sure what to expect or how to navigate the complexities of getting to know colleagues from a distance, but IFYC team members Silma and Nadia welcomed us into their homes, their traditions, and their faith.
As the final project for the class, we wanted to do something that would make our campus a more inclusive, interreligious place.
IFYC is collecting prayers and meditations from diverse faiths to show our solidarity with the people of India, as well as links to charitable organizations that people can support.
Generally, tradition holds that the body is to be cremated or buried as quickly as possible – within 24 hours for Hindus, Jains and Muslims, and within three days for Sikhs. This need for rapid disposal has also contributed to the current crisis.
“Humanitarian Day embodies why Islam is relevant in America today. It’s why many Black Muslims embraced Islam, to be part of the solution, not only in their personal lives, but in their communities." - Margari Aziza Hill, MuslimARC
Recently, I asked a group of IFYC Alumni to share what they do in one sentence. I love their responses because they capture who they are so well.
As a nurse and a physician occupying different spheres in relation to the patient, Anastasia and I held comparable but also differing views about the role of religion and interfaith in the realm of patient care.
El movimiento necesita artistas, educadores, trabajadores de la salud, padres, funcionarios electos, científicos, clérigos, directores generales, y cuantas personas sea posible para hablar en contra de la injusticia donde sea que la veamos.
The scholarship covers the students’ tuition, as well as housing and living assistance while they pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees across all 18 of Columbia’s schools and affiliates.
En esta foto del sábado 9 de mayo de 2020, el Rev. Fabián Arias lleva a cabo un servicio en casa, al lado de los restos de Raúl Luis López quien murió de COVID-19 el mes previo, en el barrio Corona del distrito de Queens en Nueva York.
It is certainly within the rights of philanthropic and political institutions to 'not do religion,' but such an approach undermines any meaningful, holistic commitment to community or place-based humanitarian efforts in much of this country.
Last month, Kevin Singer, co-director of Neighborly Faith, brought two interfaith leaders together to discuss their respective publications and the consequences of the Equality Act on religious organizations, institutions, and places of worship.
It is in this spirit respeaking memory and finding time to etch it into the future that I offer the following exercise. It is designed to do with your friends or folks – preferably three or more. Take some time with it. Use it as a catalyst to...
Imagine my surprise upon coming to USA and celebrating my first Easter, but didn’t people realize it was Easter? Why are all the egg die and chocolates already sold out and none left for us celebrating a few weeks later?
They will, in other words, be learning the skills of mindfulness meditation — the secular version of the Buddhist practice that has skyrocketed in popularity to become America's go-to antidote for stress.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Chaplain Fuller’s leadership and guidance has left a lasting, rippling effect on and off campus which will guide communities and individuals into multifaith work and engagement long after her tenure at Elon.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.