Phyllis Schlafly passed away last week.
There are some people on the left side of the political spectrum – many of them people I respect and agree with – for whom this news was met with a sort of ghoulish adulation. Why? Because for many it is all to easy to reduce Schlafly’s life and legacy to one spent battling against the moral arc of the universe’s slow bend towards justice. There are many who would boldly stand up and argue that to do so would not be a reduction at all, merely an articulation of fact.
I might even be one of those people, if I’m just going to lay my cards on the table. But I am not writing to discuss the subjective facts of Ms. Schlafly’s life – such work is best left to historians and biographers.
No, what I am most interested in are the facts that are not up for dispute:
She was a political organizer.
A grassroots political organizer.
And her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment is one of the most effective and skillfully run interfaith mobilizations of women in the history of American political organizing.
Schlafly who notably had no real qualms or interest in the bill she would end up working tirelessly to organize against, saw it as an opportunity to build a nationwide interfaith coalition of women – Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons and Orthodox Jews – with whom she could build a base. And then she had that base bring pies and cakes to the homes of senators and lawmakers to get them to pushback against the ERA.
While her conception of what an interfaith coalition could look like was surely limited by the times, her conception of what such a base could accomplish certainly was not.
So why then does it seem that our own modern imaginary for what interfaith work looks like seem so…diluted? In a time when people of faith are more connected to each other than any humans have ever been in the history of this world, when the mere touch of a button can be used to broadcast the date and time of a meeting to dozens upon dozens of people all at once, why does it seem as though we spend more time on that which keeps us apart?
I’m not talking about politics, race, class or even doctrines: I am not sure that anything hampers the path of interfaith work more than reluctance – not the reluctance to take a stance but rather the reluctance to fail. Together.
You know what I mean. All that time spent getting people to the table, mediating and cajoling and politicking it out carefully until everyone is ready to act the safe bet. And the whole time you still wonder whether or not if this protest/fundraiser/march/picnic fails there’s no way you could ever get these folks together to try again.
We know what faith, many faiths, in action looks like. We have more models for it than I could count on both hands. None of us, however, wants to be the model for failure, even if that failure is graceful.
Anyone can gather a likeminded crowd, point them in the direction of a problem and say “We are going to fix this.” It doesn’t take courage, it doesn’t take grace and it certainly doesn’t take charisma. I do think, however, that you need a combination of all of those things to sit at a table, look to those next to you and say
“We might not succeed. Let’s try anyway.”
I think it takes all of those things to look at a bill that’s got overwhelming political support and say “Let’s try to beat that with cake and pie.”
I don’t know that any modern movement could or should offer something that simple. We cannot work together for change if we’re looking to be something comfortable and satisfying for all people. And yet, we also cannot work together for change if we aren’t willing to wrestle with that which makes us uncomfortable and causes us to feel dissatisfied.
Anyone can sit in their silo and fail to change the world.
Let’s try to fail together.
Julian M. Galette, Communications Intern