Abstract Picture of a Woman
By Chelsea Langston Bombino

In the midst of the prevailing division, polarization, and self-interest in public life, the Fetzer Institute is asking: how can we live a better version of our civic lives?

We believe there is a spiritual dimension that has been missing in the public square, and we are exploring ways that faith-inspired civic empathy and love-centered restoration can help our political sphere flourish. This form of civic renewal welcomes the sacred in its many manifestations. It embraces the diversity of individuals, social institutions, and our entire non-human community. It is dynamic and thrives through interdependence.

Of course, this is messy and complex in a body politics that encompasses people of varied spiritual paths, faith traditions, and those who defy easy categorization. Nonetheless, Fetzer believes that our traditions and paths are ones that can help us as we weather an uneasy storm in a polarized time.

Providing Spiritually Sourced Solutions for a Politics of the Common Good

So, how can we provide spiritual solutions for a politics of the common good? Here are just a few examples of organizations we are working with that are regenerating love in our politics and tending the roots of our sacred stories in the public square.

Dr. Shira Billet of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), explores civic friendship in Jewish thought. An upcoming JTS event, Love in the Dark Times, delves into the intricate role of civic love in Jewish theology, ethics, and literature, considering what this rich intellectual tradition can offer contemporary political life. Read our interview with Shira Billet.

Dr. Jacqueline Rivers of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies collaborates with leaders in the ecumenical Black church to promote a philosophical, political, and theological framework for a civic love ethic inspired by Dr. King. Resisting political binaries, Dr. Rivers has advocated for faith-inspired pro-poor, pro-life, pro-family policies rooted in social justice for more than three decades. Read our interview with Jacqueline Rivers.

Amar Peterman is an emerging Gen-Z Indian American scholar and practitioner working at the intersection of faith and public life. Peterman has collaborated with various faith-based civic organizations, including Neighborly Faith, Sojourners, the Center for Public Justice, the Ideos Institute, and currently, Interfaith America. His work is grounded in the belief that “the gospel has the power to transform individuals and society” and he calls Christians to participate in both. Read his piece, ”Planting Gardens of Belonging."

In addition to these featured organizations and leaders, we highlight a few more spiritually grounded partners who are contributing to the cultivation of political communities where all can flourish.

The Jewish Partnership for Democracy (JPD), established in 2022, is a diverse network of Jewish institutions with a cross-sector focus on harnessing the unique assets and capacities of the Jewish community to support a healthy civic life. Led by Aaron Dorfman, the JPD weaves together various civic strengthening programs deeply rooted in the Jewish faith. One example within the JPD network is an organization that empowers young adults to host “democracy dinners” during Shabbat.

The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) is a faith-inspired community organization that promotes health, wellness, and healing in inner-city areas by organizing for social change and civic renewal, among other initiatives. Dr. Rami Nashashibi, IMAN's founder and a MacArthur Fellow, bridges across religious, racial, and socioeconomic divides, successfully uniting diverse communities in pursuit of social justice in public life. IMAN seamlessly combines faith-inspired social service and civic action, recognizing them as two sides of the same coin. Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, a long-time supporter of IMAN, recently encouraged young people in IMAN by saying, “You're building models that can be imitated, models that can be repeated. And that's really what people need to see. May God bless this young generation of ours.”

The Fetzer Institute is also collaborating with Daisy Khan, executive director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative for Spirituality and Equality (WISE). This organization, grounded in the spiritual principles and practices central to Islam, focuses on empowering Muslim women to advance the civic freedoms of all individuals to engage in public life. Daisy emphasizes how her faith values inspire pluralistic interfaith civic action, stating, “In the Quran, justice takes as much priority as belief in God. So justice, we know, transcends considerations of race, religion, color, and creed. We are taught to do justice together. In community. And in public. Justice needs distinct faith-based civil society organizations working together, and sometimes even disagreeing with each other, to be fully realized.”

In partnership with these spiritual innovators and many others, the Fetzer Institute is dedicated to introducing new life-affirming stories and models into the soil of our political communities. We aim to identify, incubate, and catalyze diverse, spiritually grounded leaders and organizations committed to a public square where all can thrive. For this transformation in politics to be sustainable, we must remain committed to embracing a diversity of approaches and voices, each rooted in their distinct spiritual traditions and paths. By amplifying these constructive contributions, we can create the conditions for a politics of the common good to take root and flourish.

Chelsea Langston Bombino is a program officer at the Fetzer Institute. She is a contributing writer for Religion Unplugged and contributing author to Breaking Ground: Chartering Our Future in a Pandemic Year and The Routledge Handbook for Religious Literacy, Pluralism and Global Engagement.