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The campaign is over. Will a Biden-Harris administration deliver on its interfaith promises?

Leveraging the religious and ethical values of millions of Americans - both to build religious pluralism, and to solve social problems - could be a lasting legacy of their administration.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris arrive to speak at a news conference at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Delaware, on Aug. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(Interfaith America) — The incoming Biden-Harris administration has already demonstrated its deep commitment to positively engaging religious diversity during their campaign. Their Faith Outreach, helmed by Josh Dickson, invited diverse groups from evangelicals to humanists, Catholics to Latter-Day Saints, Sikhs to Jews, and a dozen additional groups. No faith was excluded, and no one group dominated.

As candidates, both Biden and Harris spoke eloquently about the importance of their own faith commitments on the campaign trail, and in their acceptance speeches. 

Religious diversity is just as essential to governing as it is to campaigns. Now that Biden and Harris have demonstrated their strength with religious voters, they have the opportunity to leverage the social capital of America’s diverse religious communities to benefit the common good.

Indeed, advancing an explicitly interfaith approach is the most potent way to activate the power of these communities. Moreover, given our religious diversity, interfaith approaches utilize a distinctively American set of strengths. 

Our organization, Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), describes religious pluralism as having three parts, all of which allow space for distinctive and often diverging commitments while building together towards a stronger civic whole: 1) affirming respect for individual religious and ethical identities, 2) building mutually inspiring relationships across lines of difference, and 3) acting on shared values for the common good. The White House has a unique convening power to uplift and advance each of these essential elements of religious pluralism.

Affirm respect for religious and ethical identities

The Biden-Harris campaign demonstrated their commitment to this priority through the actions of their campaign. In office, the administration can take additional steps, such as:

  • Recognizing, celebrating, and amplifying the holidays and cultural practices of a variety of religious traditions.
  • Intentionally involving religiously diverse leaders in various administrative initiatives and particularly highlighting religious diversity in civic celebratory moments, starting with the inauguration.
  • As E.J. Dionne and Melissa Rogers from Brookings recommended; reviving the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and its advisory committees creates a key anchor for engagement with America’s religious diversity and an opportunity for religiously diverse leadership.

Build relationships across our deepest divides

If we have learned one thing from this election cycle, it is that America’s divides are as profound as ever. President-elect Biden has articulated his commitment to healing the soul of our nation, healing which can be supported by the resources of our various religious traditions. The Biden-Harris administration can:

  •  Launch a series of relationship-building roundtables, designed to bring people together across our deep divisions. These conversations should focus on local religious and civic leaders — rather than political leaders — allowing renewed relationships to emerge from grassroots spaces in our country.
  • Convene the growing set of civic and philanthropic entities advancing bridgebuilding as a field. Elevating and expanding the sector of organizations committed to working across lines of difference ensures growing impact from this field.
  • Activate a set of conversations about the role that the digital landscape and social media plays in the deep divides in our country. By bringing together tech leaders and religious communities, the administration has an opportunity to explore ways to invite a shared responsibility and set of skills for using social media to bring us together, rather than drive us apart. 

Create opportunities to act for the common good

All religious and ethical traditions carry strong values around service and acting together for the common good. The Biden-Harris administration can use its platform to create meaningful opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds to respond to a larger civic call based on shared values.

  • During the Obama administration, IFYC worked alongside federal agencies and other civic partners to launch the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, involving over 500 college and university campuses across the country and hundreds of thousands of participants. Re-establishing this program would provide a key pathway for renewed engagement within higher education.
  • As noted by Michael Wear, a large-scale national service initiative has deep potential to activate the energies of young leaders across the country for the common good. In this moment of crisis when many young people are struggling to find meaningful work, the federal government can play a role connecting the idealism of youth with the needs of the country. 
  • Historically, we have seen the way that religiously and racially diverse movements have pushed for racial equity. The Biden-Harris administration can launch a new initiative calling on Americans to activate their religious commitments in pursuit of racial equity initiatives across the country. Similar to the President’s Challenge, this program could amplify, network, and resource religious and civic leaders to address America’s original sin with the White House as a platform.

President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris are testaments to the power of religious communities, given how clearly they are shaped by their religious values. Leveraging the religious and ethical values of millions of Americans – both to build religious pluralism, and to solve social problems – could be a lasting legacy of their administration.

(Eboo Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core,
Paul Raushenbush is its senior advisor for public affairs and innovation, and
Mary Ellen Giess is its vice president of strategic initiatives. The views in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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