Come to the Table’s School for Food Justice, Faith, and Storytelling (SFJFS) held its fifth session on March 16, featuring a presentation from writer, preacher, community-cultivator, and Assistant Director for Partnerships and Fellowships at Yale University’s Center for Public Theology and Public Policy, Jonathan Wilson-Hartrgrove.
While this cohort of SFJFS is not open for new members, we thought it would be helpful to share five insights from each session with our network. For our fifth session, Wilson-Hartgrove left us with insights, but even better questions to consider. Thus, for this blog, we will be highlighting five questions from our session. The second cohort for SFJFS will begin in the fall of 2023. Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date on the latest information from the Come to the Table team.
Five Questions from Session 5
What is political power?
A traditional understanding of political power might conjure images of Capitol Hill, but Wilson-Hartgrove pushed participants to think of political power in terms of people. How can faith communities reflect the Christological vision of organizing people impacted by policies and power to imagine a new reality? Wilson-Hartgrove added, “Christian social engagement has to be different than simply deciding what you think the outcome needs to be and then finding your way to the position of greatest influence to make that happen…what Jesus actually did was quite different …When Jesus gets to Jerusalem he has already stirred up enough hope in poor and marginalized people that they’re there and ready to perform a Triumphal Entry … Jesus doesn’t immediately establish a crafty plan for advocacy, Jesus organizes people who are directly impacted in such a way that they have hope that something else is possible.”
Where can moral fusion occur in your community?
Wilson-Hartrgrove discussed the moral fusion movement where people come together across societal barriers to work together for moral change. While so much of today’s political aura is partisan and divided, real change can happen when folks are united by a common cause. One example of this might be the environmental effects of hog waste in some rural North Carolina communities and how a coalition of community members from both sides of the political aisle can link arms to address such a serious issue.
What is the role of the church as an organizer?
Throughout the session we explored the concept of community organizing and discussed the ways in which faith communities can be organizers themselves, offer their space and resources to community groups, and take direct action. Many faith communities do “missions” in the community to address issues like hunger and housing, but could make an even bigger impact if they organized with the people affected and other groups to address root causes and make lasting change.
What stories aren’t told when we think about faith communities in public action?
Throughout our discussion, Wilson-Hartgrove told numerous stories about the moral fusion work of faith communities that some participants had never heard of. Just one example of this was the story of James Walker “J.W.” Hood, an A.M.E Zion pastor among other titles, who advocated for public school provisions in the North Carolina State Constitution following the conclusion of the Civil War, served as the assistant state superintendent of public instruction, and helped establish Livingstone College. Hood’s remarkable life, and his work in the political sphere as a pastor, is just one example of faith leaders engaging in public theology that are often overlooked.
What can stories of faith leaders engaged in public action teach us about how churches can engage in food policy advocacy?
Throughout the entire session, Hartgrove told stories of faith communities and faith-motivated community members who engage in public action to address root causes of hunger, poverty, health disparities, and more. Faith leaders can look to these stories to see how their congregations can respond through organizing. One such moment of moral fusion occurred over Valentines Day 2023: titled “Love Thy Neighbor: Expand Medicaid” brought together organizations, faith leaders, and advocates in order to demand medicaid expansion in NC. This and many other campaigns proved successful: as of March 22, 2023 it was put into law, thanks to the hard and persistent work by many healthcare advocates.