From the Pulpit: Re-invigorating a faith-led movement for justice

Guest column by The Rev. Katharine Henderson

There is an old compounding principle, which tells us that if a 20-year-old smartly invests $10,000 today in stocks, real estate and the like, s/he could end up retiring with over $2 million. Likewise, if we wisely invest in the leaders of tomorrow today, we could reap rich spiritual benefits in the years to come. As a seminary president, it is my business to help support and promote such religious leaders and, equally as important, to recognize the public’s hunger for transformation.

Recently, we have seen people of many faith traditions powerfully and peacefully raising their voices to spark the change needed to transform our country. Clergy across the United States are providing comfort and guidance, while challenging our leaders to guarantee the safety and equality of all Americans.

I had the privilege of marching in the People’s Climate March in New York City last September. Auburn, along with our other partners, built a 28-foot wooden ark (resembling Noah’s) onto which we gathered religious leaders of all kinds: Christians, the Indigenous Grandmothers, an international group of women who have devoted their lives to prayer and healing of the Earth, a rabbi blowing a shofar for the new year, an imam or two, Muslim women leaders and a humanist chaplain from Harvard — among others.

It is 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 struggle. It also awakens those who may have fallen “asleep” as citizens and voters.

Marching, peaceful protesting and exercising one’s vote are not the final solutions to these problems, but they are very important to the people participating in them and to those watching.

The proliferating protests around the increasing number of victims of injustice and 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 racial injustice, income inequality and police brutality.

Violence, racism, poverty, climate change — 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 more and more people realize the urgent need for systemic change.

Without a concrete vision, people suffer, 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 take action. That’s where the faith community comes in.

Faith leadership continues to drive us toward justice.

Pope Francis is calling for changes in lifestyles and energy consumption to counteract the global warming crisis. Sister Simone Campbell and the “Nuns on the Bus” are leading us to economic justice and immigration reform. In North Carolina, thousands continue to gather with Rev. William Barber each “Moral Monday” to protest cuts to education, voting rights, safer gun laws and more, despite hundreds of arrests.

Faith-rooted organizers are the ones who are brought in to help repair relationships, so that people — LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) activists and straight-identified pastors, for example — can work together toward common good in the future.

As the younger generations take their rightful place as leaders, there is every reason to believe that faith in a new America will have a bolder face — a many-colored, gender-equal, God-loving, and inclusive face as never seen before. It will be defined by our shared work to create the world that God intends.

The 2008 election tapped into a powerful spirit that we haven’t been able to sustain over the years. Auburn Seminary, with many other partners, is working diligently to reinvigorate the drive we have lost, in a much more morally courageous way than electoral politics alone can. A multifaith movement for justice builds power from interdependence, listening, relationship and joint action — not from exclusivity and polarization. And this is how real, lasting change can truly take root.

Join me this week for worship at Chautauqua, as we explore the interconnectedness of many of the most pressing public issues of our time — immigration, racism, climate change, aging and Alzheimer’s, and more — and what we can do, individually and together, to help heal and repair the world.

Henderson is president of Auburn Theological Seminary and author of God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World. Auburn Seminary equips bold and resilient leaders who can bridge religious divides, build community, pursue justice and heal the world. Learn more at and get involved at