Faith and advocacy: Inviting others to the table

From left to right: Rabbi Steve Gutow, Lisa Bos, and William O’Keefe speaking at Fundamentals of Faith Mobilization panel.

Last weekend at the ONE Power Summit, ONE Mom blogger and award-winning religion journalist Cathleen Falsani led an insightful panel about faith and advocacy.

Joined by Lisa Bos from World Vision, Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and William O’Keefe of Catholic Relief Services, Falsani opened the discussion session with a recollection of a Chicago Sun-Times interview she did with Bono in 2003 a story that ran just a few months before ONE’s launch, when Bono was in the trenches of the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In the piece, Falsani said she quoted Bono as having credited the American church for being a “sleeping giant that woke up to play a huge role in motivating politicians in funding African AIDS relief.” Falsani told us that Bono recalled telling his friend and fellow poverty fighter, Bob Geldof, that faith is “a secret weapon,” a sentiment with which Sir Bob – whom Bono characterized as an atheist – agreed, and replied: “Human beings are so in need of guiding principles right now.”

Although ONE is not faith-based organization, the support and cooperation of the faith community has been vital to much of ONE’s advocacy work. An interfaith approach has helped ONE bring together activists from different faith backgrounds to unite around issues that effect change and bring us closer to ending extreme poverty.

Rabbi Gutow says the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, of which he is president and CEO, relies heavily upon interfaith opportunities, including issuing joint letters with Muslims and Christians. Gutow said that even when faiths disagree on topics, they should “find a place,” no matter how small the common ground, to come together to work for peace and against injustice.

In her role as senior policy advisor for health, education, water, sanitation & hygiene at World Vision, a Christian aid and development organization, Bos added that she has seen the influence of pastors and congregations on behavioral change in communities in Africa. There, local initiatives can impact health, education and more. Even when problems on the ground might seem overwhelming, Bos said faith-based organizations “should not be afraid of challenges that we think are too hard; our faith tells us [to do] otherwise.”

When Falsani asked the panelists about the best way to mobilize individuals and faith groups to join us at the table in our advocacy efforts,

O’Keefe said, “Relationships.” People are “looking for mutually-beneficial situations,” not manipulation, he said, and that members of the faith community have their “antennae up.”

He said Catholic Relief Services, for which he serves as VP of Government Relations and Advocacy, “follows Jesus’s message to fight poverty.”

“Need, not creed,” he said. O’Keefe added that relationship-building within or across faith lines takes more than digital and social networking connections, but requires human face time. How does an activist start to build those relationships? “Sit down for coffee,” he said.

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