Students work across faith lines at the Capitol and on campus

Students in the Bonner Community Scholars program complete their work-study at non-profits and other organizations that work in the local community. Angela Butel ’13 is one such student, and while working for the Joint Religious Legislative Council (JRLC) this year, she has seen a force for change that most Macalester students do not necessarily come across every day: religious communities.

“People are really devoted to their faith communities,” Butel said. “If you get these communities on board [an issue], you can wield a lot of power.”

That power will be demonstrated at full strength at the Capitol on Feb. 21, when JRLC hosts its annual Day on the Hill, an interfaith day of policy discussion, lobbying and speakers. The group expects over 800 attendees, both clergy and laypeople.

JRLC selects the issues they will work through consensus. The four organizations that make up the JRLC board—the Minnesota Council of Churches, the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Islamic Center of Minnesota—come from across the religious spectrum, and all must come to an agreement before work can begin. This need for consensus sometimes limits the stances JRLC can take. For example, during the last election cycle, JRLC considered taking a stance on the Voter ID amendment but could not reach an agreement among its members.

This year, legislative goals for JRLC and Day on the Hill include funding services for victims of human trafficking, mandating more comprehensive health insurance coverage and raising the minimum wage.

Butel first became involved with JRLC as a volunteer and through one of their community organizing trainings, which they hold regularly. She said they would love to have college students more involved, and she is working on a way to get the word out to Macalester about the event.

“I would love it if we could take a group of Macalester students there,” Butel said. “It’s cool to get involved with the legislative process in a tangible way.”

According to Butel, JRLC is very interested in having more representation from students and younger people at the event, which is typically attended mostly by older people.

Beyond simply wanting students to add their voices, Butel sees the value in interfaith work for anyone interested in their community, saying it helps bridge existing divides.

“In looking at the headlines that have been coming up,” she said, “it’s apparent that religious diversity is present in our political process.”

“[This work] helps us understand others better,” Butel said.

Another organization, the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition of the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches, will also be holding an event that brings together people of different religious backgrounds next week. Their 8th annual Interfaith Youth Day of Service will be held on campus at the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL) on Feb. 18.

According to an event description from the Council of Churches, the event “is an opportunity for high schoolers from many different religious and cultural backgrounds, including no religious affiliation, to deepen their connection to their own tradition’s teachings on service and justice, to learn about the teachings of other traditions on service and justice and hospitality and to inspire inter-religious respect.”

K. P. Hong, the Assistant Director for the CRSL, is helping to host the event, which includes on-campus workshops, an afternoon service project and concluding reflections. He stressed the value of interfaith work, especially for youth, in preparing people for spiritual life in the modern world.

“The multiplication and volatility of difference in the contemporary world is perhaps emblematic in religious life,” Hong wrote in an email, “where foundational world views and convictions are converging at an unprecedented scale and scope.”

“Among various types of interfaith engagements, the ‘dialogue’ of service to society (including justice, care, peace, well-being, etc.) remains an accessible and vital meeting place for youth to meet across religious traditions and step into dialogue,” he wrote. “They begin to acknowledge and grapple with the modern predicament of being religious interreligiously.”