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 To advance equity and belonging for persons of all religious, secular, and spiritual identities by fostering human connection, interfaith understanding, and collective transformation.

Group of teens arm-in-arm walking across a road
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We seek to cultivate a vibrant and pluralistic culture in which persons of all religious, secular, and spiritual identities are cooperatively engaged in the work of growing a community of belonging through grass-roots engagement, shared power, and critical hope.

Grand Rapids' Blue Bridge in the background with grass in the foreground
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Beyond tolerance, we value:

Relationship-building is at the center of our work. By connecting people and communities, hearts and minds are expanded and transformed. Trust is a necessary component of understanding and cooperation. We must know our neighbors and see where our lived experiences and stories intersect with theirs and where they differ. This ultimately enables us to lead with empathy as we seek to build a healthier community together.

“Relationships are built at the speed of trust, and social change happens at the speed of relationships.”
- Rev. Jennifer Bailey, Faith Matters Network

Building off of a core focus on relationships, we recognize that there is a connectedness that exists between peoples and between institutions within a given community. Our work, then, is to illuminate the reality that all of life is interconnected. As such, we see ourselves as a bridge-builder between organizations, congregations, and individuals in a world where it is all too easy to polarize and isolate. 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…”
- Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why We Can’t Wait”

In understanding we practice both compassionate communication and empathetic listening. On one hand, it means we have to make our views or beliefs understandable to someone who does not share them. On the other hand, it means that we have to enter into the world of someone’ beliefs, experiences, and feelings, which may even seem contrary to our own. In understanding we have the opportunity to learn about one another, to learn what we each believe or hold to be true, and to learn how those views, principles, or ideas impact our everyday lives.

We view transformation through both a personal and a communal lens. On the one hand, we value the growth that can occur for individuals when they see themselves as being deeply connected to their neighbors. On the other hand, we see the necessity of changing institutions and structures within our community that stand in the way of justice and fail to advance the health and well-being of all. In both cases, we seek transformation by investing in spaces where storytelling and relationships lead to collective action. 

“Our goal is more profound than simply changing beliefs, or even behaviors. It is a fundamental transformation of our very way of being from ego-centered to all-centered, from separation and fear to wholeness and love.”
- Fetzer Institute, Theory of Change and Organizational Development Strategy

Understanding doesn’t mean that I have to agree with or accept your perspective as true for me, nor does it assume my perspective or experience ought to be true for you. Rather it welcomes us into a place of respectful inquisitiveness. When we turn to face one another, when we listen and share with each other, with empathy, when we ask questions and we listen to each other’s answers, we become known. We become real to each other. We see each other as whole persons - as humans. 

“Wonder is the wellspring for love.”
- Valarie Kaur, See No Stranger

As an extension of our connection within the human family, belonging requires us to ensure that everyone has not only a seat at the table but full participation in the conversation, in which what they have to share or offer is valued and respected. We are accountable for maintaining the shared ownership of space and work, striving to equitably elevate voices, perspectives, experiences, and ideas so that we can be honest in our labor of building a healthy community together.  

"True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are."
- Brené Brown

Equity is a guiding principle at GVSU as well as at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. It refers to the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for everyone, especially those from historically underserved and underrepresented populations. This means handing over the megaphone so that all stories and voices can be heard. By identifying and eliminating barriers that prevent the full participation of marginalized groups, we can create a more just community born out of our collective imagination.

We recognize our responsibility to examine traditional power structures and to address unfair treatment of any persons within these structures. We seek to educate and empower all members of the community to think critically about systems of marginalization, privilege, and oppression. We see human connection as an imperative for decentralizing decision-making power so that persons of all religious, secular, and spiritual backgrounds have a stake in the work, a voice at the table, and an equitable share of resources. 

A pluralistic society is one in which belonging is fully realized. Whereas diversity is a reality in a globalized world, pluralism requires action and interaction that engages with that diversity cooperatively. We value pluralism because it honors diversity and difference while also illuminating that we share a common, interconnected life together. In light of this, we must work together to ensure each other’s health and well-being.

"If society is to be at all a rational process, some set of principles must motivate the general participation of all religious groups, despite their dissensions, in the oneness of the community. On the other hand, these common principles must not hinder the maintenance by each group of its own different identity."
- John Courtney Murray

We see our programs as co-learning spaces. In living into our value of collective transformation, even as convenors, we both personally and institutionally recognize that we too have room for growth. In this work of multi-faith and intercultural understanding, we will all make mistakes. We ought to be brave and humble in our willingness to continue the conversation while learning and holding ourselves accountable to others. 

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
- Maya Angelou

A Framework Of Critical Hope

The term ‘critical’ has numerous implications, all of which are relevant to our project. The first is the sense of importance - critical as vital or essential. Secondly, critical implies a sense of urgency or immediacy. Lastly, to be critical means to be discerning or analytical. In theoretical contexts, critical thinking implies an explicit exploration of power, oppression, privilege, and the status quo.

Hope looks to a collective vision of a better future. It is what guides and sustains us in the incremental journey on the arc of history that bends towards justice. Hope is more than passive optimism or the naive expectation that change will happen overnight. Hope is an active pursuit of a reality not yet realized. Hope is the essential starting point and ever-present companion to justice-seeking work as it grapples with politics, emotions, relationships, lived-realities, and identities.

Philosopher Darren Webb described critical hope as follows:

“To persevere with humble serenity while being driven by a rage that renders serenity impossible; to wait with patience and yet impatiently refuse to wait; to denounce the ambitions of the irresponsible adventurer while proclaiming education to be adventure full of risk; to keep oneself focused on a scientific study of concrete reality while acknowledging that a scientific knowledge of reality is not enough; to restrain oneself to the discourse of the real-Possible and yet declare that the role of the educator is to make possible the impossible by dreaming it.”

Critical hope invites us to hold conflicting truths in a single space and time, to sit in tension with differences, and to sustain a complex and shared pluralistic vision of a better world. Such change must be rooted in and arise from collective reimagining. This form of hope is brave and challenging and necessary. To engage in interfaith work is to engage in critical hope.

For those interested in learning more about the thought-provoking term of “critical hope,” we strongly suggest checking out Kari Grain’s book, Critical Hope: How to Grapple with Complexity, Lead with Purpose, and Cultivate Transformative Social Change.

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Page last modified July 26, 2023