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Summary: role of religious leaders in addressing institutional injustice

In the midst of dealing with a global viral pandemic, the problem of systemic racism and institutional injustices has resurfaced across the United States. With the violent death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, hundreds of protests have formed in communities around the world, calling for an end of the systemic racism in which has heavily oppressed the justice and freedom of many.

On Thursday, June 4th, the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and prominent multi-faith leaders gathered together at the #SociallyDistantTownHall to the role of religious leaders in addressing institutional injustice within the United States and around the world. The #SociallyDistantTownHall is a weekly discussion which convenes grassroots actors to inform and discuss issues with a local context.

Religious and traditional leaders have taken transformative roles in supporting peace and changing oppressive systems around the world. Now, more than ever, the voices of religious and traditional leaders are needed within local communities to create unifying messages of solidarity and understanding. When communities collectively speak for love, truth and justice, they stand against systemic exclusion and suppression. In turn, this allows for nations to strive for a world of sustainable peace.

Some speakers noted that the violent death of George Floyd could be considered a “Kairos” moment, meaning a moment of opportunity at exactly the right time. Floyds death intersected with the COVID-19 pandemic, which already revealed systemic equalities. For example, a disproportionate death rate among African-Americans around the United States continues to occur due to persistent inequalities in access to health care and socioeconomics. The “Kairos” moment is the coinciding of Floyd’s death in which brought up these moments of systemic inequality in both the pandemic of COVID-19 and the “pandemic” of systemic racism.

Over the years, the United States has made some progress in eliminating elements of legalized racial discrimination. However, bias and discrimination still exist in the United States, creating marginalized groups. These protests are a defining moment to bring to light this issue and encourage the development of reforms to make a more inclusive and equal society. People must look to reduce the bystander effect and embrace curiosity and humility.

Religious communities are a critical part to developing more inclusive societies and are deeply involved in the discussion. Religious and community leaders have the potential to change people’s minds, shape better morals and develop new structures. Religious and traditional leaders can use scripture to teach their congregations and communities about the fight to end racism and related forms of discrimination. One of the most effective ways to fight racism is to listen to those who experience it, learn from them and amplify their voices. Religious and traditional leaders often have the platform in their communities, no matter how big or small, to uplift voices that inspire change and to mobilise their communities to make the effort to listen and learn. It is important for leaders to start changing their own institutions and to invite one another and find opportunities for interfaith gatherings.

This issue will still remain far after the protests have ended. Ending racial injustice in the United States requires a long term systematic work. We must look to the younger generation to help bring about change. In the United States and around the world, most of the protesters are young people. It is important to engage with youth to bring about positive change. Youth are the future of the country. It is important for religious leaders to engage with intergenerational dialogue as well as encourage youth to take an active leadership role within their communities.

Sources recommended by speakers:

“How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi

“The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil” by Philip Zimbardo

This article was written in collaboration of PaRD with the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers