August 4, 2020
As Americans grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we also must reckon with our country’s history of systemic racism. People of faith may not be able to safely gather in person, but we have been coming together virtually and in the streets to affirm that Black Lives Matter. Today, progressive religious leaders in America preach truth amidst ongoing lies about public health and racism from elected officials. We respond to the deep pain and grief in our communities. We build relationships across lines of difference to push for systemic change.
Just two days after our panel on “Young Women of Faith and Transformative Leadership in COVID-19 Response,” I called in to a town hall with hundreds of people from across the greater Washington, DC, area. Members of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) were building power to push for a more just budget for the city of DC, one that redirected resources from the Metropolitan Police Department towards social services and violence prevention programs. Feeling the energy in the Zoom room through cheers, virtual applause, and impassioned sermons, I knew that only together could we effect real change.
I am often reminded by the high schoolers whom I teach, however, that coalition work does not always happen easily. Young people see the divisiveness in our country and wonder how we can work with people who do not agree with us on everything. More times than I could count this summer, my students asked me how it’s possible to be in deep relationship across lines of difference.
While there is no simple answer, I have learned from my teachers, many of whom are female faith leaders themselves, that relationships must be central. Being in deep relationship allows us to work with organizations on the issues where we agree and stay in conversation on the issues where we don’t. Being in relationship enables us to know which individuals are directly impacted and subsequently helps us center their experiences and expertise. Being in relationship reminds us that it is the dignity of every human being which inspires our fight for justice in the first place.
Jewish tradition teaches that the prophet Moses did not lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt alone. Moses relied on the wisdom of Miriam and Aaron, his siblings who had lived amongst the Israelites while he was in Pharaoh’s home, to help him mobilize the people. It was Miriam and Aaron’s proximity to the people that made them effective agents of change and Moses’ foundational relationship to Miriam and Aaron (through birth) that helped him reconnect after all of those years apart.
Yet relationships can be formed in many ways and with people from different backgrounds; Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, a Midianite priest, becomes a central character as the newly freed Israelites build a just society, a beautiful model for how our chosen family and friends can come from unexpected places. The partnership between Jethro and Moses reminds us that, often, the strongest teams include leaders of diverse backgrounds. I witnessed this firsthand as I had the honor to be in conversation with and learn from thoughtful women from around the globe just a few weeks ago.
As we work to make America a more just society, let us strengthen our bonds with those we know and push ourselves to be in relationship with those less familiar to us. We must commit to this work not just in moments of crisis but on an ongoing basis. In the spirit of Jethro, Miriam, Aaron, Moses, and so many others, we can march towards liberation, together.
Other Editorial Responses
August 4, 2020
August 4, 2020