Friday, July 31, 2009

Good God Talk: Faith in Public Life

The cool little web-show, "Faith Complex" out of Georgetown University has an interesting interview with a spokeswoman for the group "Faith in Public Life". Here's information on this organization from its website:


Faith in Public Life is a strategy center advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good. In order to maximize the faith community’s unique ability to shape public debates, Faith in Public Life identifies and creates moments of opportunity, builds and supports broad coalitions, and designs and implements innovative campaigns, bold initiatives and capacity-building tools. Faith in Public Life’s approach emphasizes results, rapid response, cutting-edge skills and media savvy.


Following the 2004 election, in which faith was often deployed in service of a narrow and partisan agenda, a diverse group of 40 religious leaders came together to advance a positive alternative: an inclusive and unifying faith movement advancing the common good in the public square. This group, including leaders such as Jim Wallis, Rabbi David Saperstein, Melissa Rogers, Rev. Jim Forbes, Ricken Patel and Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, envisioned a more robust and effective faith movement with the savvy, flexibility and nimbleness to thrive in a new political and media environment. Faith in Public Life (FPL) was founded to fuel this burgeoning faith movement with cutting edge strategies and capacity-building resources. The founders gave FPL a movement-focused mission, rather than organizational or issue-focused one, and the specific mandate to lift up religious voices speaking for justice and the common good, build bridges and facilitate strategic alliances, and find new ways forward on historically divisive issues. Since its official launch in 2006, Faith in Public Life has fulfilled this mission by building the movement’s media presence and capacity, providing strategic assistance to faith-based coalitions, brokering new partnerships, developing online communities, sponsoring opinion research, and amplifying the voices of emerging religious leaders. FPL has built an innovative, collaborative, strategic, results-oriented body of work in service of the faith community’s movement for the common good.

One of the things I liked about the interview was Katie Paris' emphasis on faith being a force for unity in public life, something a Baha'i can support 100%. This is of course easier said than done, but a faith-based initiative with promoting unity at its core a positive development. The host of "Faith-Complex" raised the oft raised issue of church/state separation as well and whether it is better for religion to remain in "private life". I'm no expert on this issue but it seems to me it is a matter of how public life is defined. If public life is defined as partisan politics, I'd agree it is better for religion to stay out of it. This is certainly the Baha'i standard. If however, public life is defined more broadly, faith can and should be a part of it. For example, religious Americans have as much right as anyone else to petition their government regarding their concerns and to practice free speech as part of public discourse. Neither of these activities requires participation in partisan politics as more than a century of Baha'i involvement in American public life demonstrates.

I hope readers enjoy this interview and share your thoughts. What role if any should religion have in public life? What does public life mean to you? Is it really possible for religion to be a force for unity or is it inherently divisive?

"The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God's holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. The religion of God and His divine law are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 129)