Five Things I Learned about Faith, Policy, and Politics
By: Nena Beecham
April 15, 2016
While my friends were packing their bathing suits and sunscreen to spend spring break in places like California, Florida, and the Caribbean, I was packing blazers and slacks to spend my spring break 15 minutes away from Georgetown. I, along with 10 other students, would be participating in an Alternative Breaks Program (ABP) named Magis: Faith, Policy, and Politics (MFPP). The program aimed to explore the intersection of faith, politics, and policy and examine how faith-based organizations work to influence politics and policies. Unlike most ABP trips, there was no definite answer we were seeking for the question of how faith, policy, and politics should influence each other. It was more of an introduction to issues surrounding religion in the public sphere. Throughout my experience, I encountered a variety of new ideas, and the following were my top five.
1. Magis Means Deeper, not More: Magis is the Ignatian ideal of more. Beforehand, I assumed that the trip would be more of what I had already done within Georgetown: more visits to religious services, more interfaith dialogue, and more community service. This, however, was not the case. Magis means more as in going deeper. In light of this, I made it a habit to ask questions, be aware throughout my experiences, and reflect after each event.
2. There is Religious Freedom and There is Freedom from Religion: Religious freedom is not a concrete idea, but a spectrum. On the very left are countries with “passive religious freedom,” which have more of a focus on allowing people to practice their religion as they want. On the very right are countries with “aggressive religious freedom,” which have more of a focus on keeping religion out of public life and politics.
3. Upstream Work can Lessen the Need for Downstream Work: Upstream work includes advocacy, lobbying, and anything that can help to change policy. Downstream work includes volunteer work, community service, and anything that acts as charity or serves others. Organizations can use upstream work to eliminate the necessity for downstream work, and this task is more effective when done in interfaith coalitions.
4. However, Downstream Work Tends to Unite People: One of my favorite portions of the trip was our service at the Capital Area Food Bank. This was one of the most religiously diverse service opportunities I have participated in, and also one of the most physical. Although lifting boxes and sorting food for four hours made my muscles ache, the feeling of compassion I had afterwards made everything worth it.
5. A Culture of Encounter is the First Step to Dialogue: In the very last days of the trip, we reflected on Pope Francis’ idea of building a culture of encounter. To me, this meant building a culture where it’s encouraged to step outside of our circles and promote dialogue with those who hold different views. MFPP was my first step towards building a culture of encounter, not only because I encountered people with new and different views on the trip, but because we were able to work together despite our views. Many say that dialogue should begin with similarities, but when similarities are not present at firsthand, a culture of encounter can help us to dig deeper for them.