Saying that “inequality is the root of social evil,” Pope Francis has made economic justice a focus of his papacy. With young Americans turning away from organized faith communities, though, can religion really play a part in progressive social movements, as it did in the 1960s?Dan McKanan, Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Senior Lecturer in Divinity at Harvard Divinity School (HDS), shares his thoughts on a new report from the Brookings Institution that contends that “religious voices will remain indispensable to movements on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, and middle-class Americans.”HDS: Last week the Brookings Institution released “Faith in Equality: Economic Justice and the Future of Religious Progressives,” a report that “details the challenges and opportunities religiously affiliated progressives face in building a movement for economic justice.” Do you agree with the authors’ conclusion that religion can continue to play an important role in U.S. social movements, despite younger people’s alienation from organized faith?McKANAN: There is a lot of potential for religiously unaffiliated progressives — especially millennials — to partner with religious institutions and organizations in working for economic justice. In my own work, I see lots of young people who would be very reluctant to join a religious congregation who are nevertheless comfortable working in task-oriented organizations sponsored by religious or spiritual movements.You can see this in denominationally sponsored volunteer groups like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. You can see it in the many young people working on biodynamic farms or Camphill communities, even though they don’t identify with the anthroposophical spirituality that informs biodynamics or Camphill. I see the same pattern in justice work sponsored by classical denominations that I do in groups representing “alternative” spiritualities.HDS: Do you think the model used by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s could still be effective in mobilizing people of different faiths, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds — particularly in light of growing secularization?McKANAN: The Civil Rights Movement is still a good model for partnership between religious organizations and religiously unaffiliated individuals. Though the report characterizes the movement as an alliance of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, its religious diversity was actually quite a bit broader than that.Religious humanists, secular humanists, Unitarian Universalists, and Muslims also played very important roles in the movement. I’m thinking of folks like A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality, Whitney Young of the Urban League, Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam, and Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.These were leaders of some of the most important Civil Rights organizations, and spiritually they all stood outside the mainstream churches. But they were very happy to partner with the organizational strengths of the historic black churches and the Protestant mainline.HDS: Is there another model that could be as effective? McKANAN: Well, the Civil Rights Movement occurred at a time of rapid economic growth and unprecedented strength for religious institutions. It was natural in that context for secular progressives to seek out the organizational strengths of religion. The situation today — both in terms of economic stagnation and institutional weakness on the part of religion — is different. We could expect the resulting alliances to have a different flavor, perhaps more reminiscent of organizing in the 1930s than the 1960s.HDS: Is it possible, as the authors suggest, to appeal to conservatives on the basis of religion to get them “on board” with movements that promote economic justice?McKANAN: Some religious conservatives can be drawn into movements for economic justice, even though they might differ with religious progressives on issues like abortion or same-sex relationships.One of the most important arguments in the report is that evangelicals in the global South, and even in other wealthy countries, are often quite progressive on economic issues, and these people may nudge American evangelicals to adopt similar attitudes.On the other hand, it would be a mistake to assume that the alliance between social and economic conservatives in the United States is only a marriage of convenience. For some — not all — American evangelicals, free-market capitalism is a matter of religious principle just as much as opposition to abortion is.HDS: Are there precedents in recent U.S. history?McKANAN: Absolutely. I was disappointed that the report did not pay more attention to the role religious progressives have played in the recent cultural sea change regarding marriage equality and LGBT rights more generally.The willingness of certain religious groups to embrace and celebrate queer marriages played an enormous role in “normalizing” diverse sexual identities. My own tradition, Unitarian Universalism, has provided especially significant institutional support for marriage equality, and the pace of change has accelerated as larger denominations have joined the cause. The fact of this victory can be a source of hope for those involved in the struggle against economic inequality.
Michael Yu | The Observer Students race off in the annual Fisher Regatta, in which participants fashion boats and sail across St. Mary’s Lake.“I think we were pretty happy overall with how it went,” he said. “ … The weather wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be — it only rained a little in the first 20 to 30 minutes. We had a lot of great boats this year.”One of the students who made a boat and competed in the Regatta this year was freshman and Pasquerilla West Hall vice president Abbe George, who helped craft the “Dub Tub.”“A couple other girls were actually building it, and they needed another person to help out,” she said “I rowed in high school, and they thought that would be helpful but it’s very different. [I] just wanted to help [Pasquerilla West] out with the boat.”The “eclectic group of boats,” Murday said, was what made this year’s event stand out. Michael Yu Participants travel across St. Mary’s Lake during Saturday’s event. A team of freshmen from Fisher Hall won this year’s Fisher Regatta with their boat “Floaty McFloatface.”“The sci-fi club had a ‘Star Wars’ boat, and two guys in Zahm swam with a piece of wood tied to their legs, and that was funny,” he said. “ … The Knights of Columbus had a huge barge that they grilled steaks on. I think it was cool things like that that added to the event and made it unique.”George said the experience of creating and racing a boat was one to remember.“It was a lot of fun, but it was freezing,” she said. “But it was fun building the boat and getting to know the other girls in [Pasquerilla West] who I didn’t know before, and the actual race itself was a ton of fun too. All of us were dreading going onto the water because it was freezing, but we got out there and it was a ton of fun. We could tell we were going to lose — we started doing donuts in the water. It was a blast.”The boat achieved a rare feat for a Pasquerilla West, George said.“We were the first PW boat, in all of [Pasquerilla West rector Sister Mary Jane Hahner’s] time, to make it across the lake so that was exciting,” she said. “We were moving pretty fast for our little styrofoam raft.”George said the success of this year’s boat and the fun of the event motivated her to invest wholesale in next year’s Regatta.“We were talking, [and] we want to go really hard next year,” she said. “We want to get a boat commission going so we can make a lot of cool boats, because a lot of people started earlier and had really intricate boats, whereas we just pulled some styrofoam out of the storage closet and threw it on the water. So we do want to get a couple boats together next year and make them more intense.”The event was not only a success for many of the racers, but also in terms of the amount of money raised for St. Adalbert.“Just at the event itself I think we sold close to 100 [tank top shirts],” Murday said. “With the event — we’re still doing our final count, but we should be right on our target of $10,000.”The success of the event was contingent upon many people and groups, Murday said, and he thanked everyone who contributed to and participated in the Regatta.“I’d just like to extend thanks out to the staff that worked very hard throughout the semester and put this event together,” he said. “Also [to] the guys in our dorm who sold tanks, and our rector, [Rick Mazzei], who provided us with guidance and help throughout the process … and to the racers, because they’re the ones who make the event special.”Tags: 25th annual Fisher Regatta, fisher hall, fisher regatta, Pasquerilla West, St. Adalbert As they have for the last 30 years — though the event claims to be the 25th annual every year — members of the Notre Dame community crafted boats using whatever materials they could find and rowed across St. Mary’s Lake Saturday as part of the Fisher Regatta, which raises money for St. Adalbert Elementary School in South Bend. This year, riders endured even more challenges than riding boats made of floaties or styrofoam, as many of the early races took place in the rain. Freshmen Connor Kooistra, James Pescio and Greg Wall, all residents of Fisher Hall, won the competition with their canoe, “Floaty McFloatface.”Junior Patrick Murday, Fisher Hall resident and co-chair of the organizing committee for the Regatta, said the event was a success despite the conditions. read more