THE BLOG
12/24/2014 04:35 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2015

Reinvigorating the Faith-Led Movement for Justice

Recently, we have seen people of many faith traditions powerfully and peacefully raising their voices to spark the change that transforms our country. Clergy across the United States have provided comfort and guidance while demanding that our leaders guarantee the safety and justice of all Americans. As we call for an end to police brutality, faith leaders provide values frames for peaceful protests: I can't breathe, We can't breathe, and "God" can't breathe. Faith community leadership is increasingly critical as we also negotiate recent targeted acts of violence against law enforcement, such as Saturday's tragic shootings of NYPD Officers Ramos and Liu in Brooklyn.

The proliferating protests around Eric Garner and other victims of violence are on a continuum that began with Occupy Wall Street and continued with the work of Dreamers for immigration reform as well as clergy and activists fighting against voter suppression, income inequality and police brutality. Not to mention Nuns on the Bus; the Sanctuary Movement, which is ongoing in congregations; and Moral Mondays in North Carolina and across the country, spearheaded by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II.

Violence, racism, poverty -- and all types of injustice and oppression -- are not problems separate from each other but interrelated, which means more power for the entire movement, as people sign on when they realize the need for systemic change.

Marching, peaceful protesting and exercising your vote are not the final solutions to these problems, but they are very important to the people participating in them and to those watching. For example, on December 8, 2014, I was part of a group of about 100 faith leaders of all kinds that joined with New York City Council members to deliver a specific request to the City Council and Mayor: assign a special prosecutor for the Garner case and all such cases in the future. By the end of the day, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had indicated his support for the special prosecutor demand, asking Governor Andrew Cuomo for the authority to investigate the failure to indict Eric Garner's killer. It's a small step, but an important one.

It was satisfying to put one's body in play with others out there in public. It emboldens people when they are together and makes them feel less alone in the fight. It also awakens those who may have fallen "asleep" as citizens and voters.

We are getting better at this. I've witnessed and experienced this growth firsthand. There has been seamless teamwork with my colleagues -- as if we were running a relay and handing off the baton to one another -- and a trust that has developed over time, which should not be underestimated. And more importantly, there is a flourishing generational change in which young leaders are stepping up, especially youth of color. We see this in Ferguson and all across the country.

I believe voting and turning out voters matters, but there are deeper issues that must be urgently addressed. Without a concrete vision, people perish, and electoral politics alone won't satisfy the hunger for justice and equality. We have to actually show people the stakes so that they will be willing to vote. That's where the progressive faith community comes in.

People need to be reminded that there is something more deep-seated than electoral politics, and it goes far beyond the election season. Some of the profound work that the multifaith movement for justice is doing now in cities like Chicago and Atlanta demonstrates the danger of transactional electoral politics in which people and groups use and discard each other for the sake of an election. Faith-rooted organizers are the ones who are brought in to help repair the damage done so that people -- LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) activists and straight-identified pastors, for example -- can build strong relationships that will allow them to work together in the future.

The 2008 election had tapped into an exciting spirit that we weren't able to sustain or develop over the years. We are now doing our best to build a movement that will channel frustration and fuel electoral energy for 2016. Auburn Seminary is working diligently to reinvigorate the drive we've lost, in a much more meaningful way than electoral politics alone can. This is what the multifaith movement for justice is about.