by Lisa M. Gray, Assistant Director of Student Life, Cultural and Spiritual Diversity
Get ready for Critical Social Justice: Baltimore 365 with our “What You Need to Know” series.
As we begin Critical Social Justice: Baltimore 365, Pope Francis’ timely recent visit to the U.S. – specifically his remarks to Congress, helps us explore the ways that religion, faith and spirituality can inform what we do in the public sphere, not just in our private lives. Like so many religious figures and leaders have shown us – Mother Teresa, Saint Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King, Jr., Amma Mata Amritanandamayi, and Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III to name just a few – religious faith, spirituality, belief systems and social justice activism are often interconnected. For example, here are some of the social justice topics and calls to action shared by the Pope in his Congressional Address:
Anti-Violence, Anti-Hatred and Dangers of Polarization
“But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps…”
“To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject…Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.”
Defense of Liberty, Human Rights and Justice
“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to dream of full rights for all their brothers and sisters as Martin Luther King sought to do, when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”
Sustainability and Environmental Activism
“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’, and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference…”
See the full transcript of Pope Francis’ remarks to Congress on Sept. 24, 2015 here.
All of this and more will be explored further in our Oct. 22nd Critical Social Justice event, From Belief to Action: An Interfaith Dialogue. This moderated roundtable discussion features religious and spiritual leaders engaged in social justice activism in Baltimore followed by a facilitated audience conversation. Read on to learn more about our invited panelists:
Cara Behneman, Director of UMBC Hillel and Chair of the UMBC Religious Council
Cara Behneman, originally from southern Maryland, has lived in Baltimore for the past 7 years while working with UMBC Hillel. She is passionate about bringing together different faith communities and has spearheaded interfaith dialogues here on campus.
Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton, Senior Pastor, The Open Church of Baltimore
Dr. Brad Braxton is the Founding Senior Pastor of The Open Church in Baltimore, Maryland. His publications have explored how religion can sponsor either injustice or positive social transformation. His lectures and sermons have addressed topics such as racial reconciliation, social justice activism, interfaith dialogue, and collaborative economic partnerships with developing countries.
Ashley Bryner, Senior Druid of CedarLight Grove, ADF and Member of the UMBC Religious Council
Ashley is the current Senior Druid of CedarLight Grove, ADF, and has been heavily involved in community projects there for seven years. She has organized and taken part in projects relating to building tolerance in a spiritual setting, demystifying Paganism/Druidry to the general public, environmental activism, raised funding to support local charities ranging from women’s shelters and homeless vets to homeless animals and wildlife sanctuaries.
Asma Inge-Hanif, Executive Director of Muslimat Al Nisaa, INC
Responding to the stigmas associated with violence and rape within the community, in 2007 Asma Hanif opened her H.O.M.E. to shelter homeless Muslim women and children as well as Muslim women victims of Domestic Violence. She was the 2006 & 2013 recipient of “Community Service Award” for Social Activism and the 2007 recipient of the Freedom Foundation’s Humanitarian Award.
Historic and present day race and class-based inequities plaguing Baltimore show us now more than ever that there is a need for our personal faith and belief systems to uplift where, with whom and how we live publically. Freddie Gray’s killing and the subsequent Baltimore Uprising didn’t happen in a vacuum as this week’s Baltimore 101: Why Baltimore Matters kickoff session by Dr. Jodi Kelber-Kaye illustrates. With the help of our panelists, we hope to learn, dialogue and expand our knowledge and skills for engaging in faith and belief system-based activism and social change making in and beyond Baltimore by:
- exploring how we work in and on behalf of our communities across social identities like gender, race, socioeconomic class, national origin, spirituality/religion, and educational status;
- naming and revealing the ways our privileged and marginalized identities show up in how and when we act on our beliefs;
- reflecting on the role of spiritual and religious institutions during the past and current civil rights movements; and
- unpacking the meaning of justice and equality from a diverse range of spiritual and religious perspectives.
This event is free and open to the public. All are invited to participate in Critical Social Justice: Baltimore 365, Oct. 19-23. For a complete list of the week’s events, visit critsocjustice.wordpress.com.