Embracing the Intersection of Faith and Justice
Since beginning her internship at the General Board of Church and Society, Alli Koehler found one underlying theme in the work and strategies: relationships.
Since beginning my internship at the General Board of Church and Society, I have found one underlying theme in the work and strategy here: Relationships.
In organizing, our work is to build relationships and our work is sustained by relationships. We make connections with individuals and groups who are doing justice work around the world and within these relationships we find a sustaining hope. They are proof that the Kingdom of God is upon us and this truth spurs us on to continue our mission.
We witness the Kingdom of God through these connections when we feel the energy of a human rights movement sprouting from the grassroots, when we see the light bulb illuminate in the mind of an inspired training seminar attendee, and when we notice two ministries strategizing together. All of these moments make us aware that social justice is a growing reality, and they remind us to pray not only that the Kingdom of God would come but that we would recognize how it already has.
In addition to the connections with individuals outside of our agency, relationships with colleagues also greatly fuel our work. As coworkers, we inspire one another in times of great passion, we comfort one another in times of discouragement, and we lift up one another in our spiritual journeys as well. Our faith informs our commitment to justice and constantly my coworkers remind me to prioritize my relationship with God.
In the work of my colleagues, I see Jesus and His ministry with those in the marginalized corners of the community. It causes me to hope that my witness to the world is a mirror of that ministry as well. As I come to grasp how faith and justice intersect, I imagine relationships as the marked sign at the crossroads. The practice of organizing has inspired this image for me because it has taught me that my previous understandings of faith and justice were not fully developed. Here, I have learned that faith is not solely a personal endeavor while justice alone holds the responsibility of engaging a global audience. In fact, in organizing I find that faith stretches globally, and justice can be deeply effective on an individual level, too.
My belief that faith is inter-relational rests on my experience of witnessing God through other individuals. For example, when I met Stephen Taylor, the Associate Caring Pastor at Mt. Pisgah UMC in the North Georgia Conference, I heard about transformation happening in God’s name through the Special Needs Ministry at his church. Once serving two students, the ministry now reaches 155 families, and Stephen told me that his passion is fueled when he witnesses the Kingdom of God at the group homes in the area. His commitment to growing faithful relationships with others in the disability community gives me a glimpse of the interpersonal nature of faith.
Stephen also taught me how particular and personal justice can be. He told me his story of being denied confirmation in his local church growing up because of his hearing impairment. As a result, he left the church for 25 years. This story is proof that until stigmas and systems of oppression are rendered powerless, individuals - not just generalized groups or communities - will continue to be devastated by these injustices.
With relationships at the center of the intersection of faith and justice, I notice that stories are the best mode of transportation through the crossroads. Personal testimonies help navigate the process of understanding faith, justice, and the deep needs of our communities. By evoking empathy, stories bridge differences so that more and more relationships can be made.
Since my time with the organizing department, my philosophy of justice has been shaped and is now founded on the importance of relationships. I was introduced a long time ago to the inter-sectional nature of justice issues, such as feminist issues being influenced by race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class. But now I have been introduced to the importance of the inter-sectional nature of relationships. We could not possibly dream of addressing the overlapping justice issues if it weren’t for the power of present people coming together to intersect and dream with one another.