On Tuesday, I found myself cheering at the TV set as our President, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative, called all of us to end human trafficking.
“Like that Good Samaritan on the road to Jericho, we can’t just pass by, indifferent. We’ve got to be moved by compassion. We’ve got to bind up the wounds.” Amen. The President said the estimated 20 million victims of human trafficking would become a major focus of his administration.
Not long ago, I met with a young woman who had been trafficked—let’s call her Mary.
Mary came to see me in response to Auburn’s campaign to shut down Backpage.com, the internet site on which she had been trafficked for sex by others. She asked me: “What does a seminary president do?” I told her that my job is to equip faith leaders to build the multifaith movement for justice. She was amazed. She said that she had never heard the words "faith" and "justice" together in the same sentence.
I told her, "Mary, there's good news. It’s happening: people of faith and conscience are coming together to tackle the greatest justice issues of our time."
As a person who came of age in the civil rights movement in Louisville, Kentucky, whose Bible professor father put everything on the line for justice because the Bible told him he must, who when she was a little girl, not that much younger than Mary when she was first sold for sex, marched for equality in a sea of clergy and people who cared, I thought, we have work to do.
One year ago, Auburn launched Groundswell, our social action arm, as a place where people of conscience could stand for justice together. We went from a community of 0 to 40,000 people and faith leaders in our first year as we stood together against sex trafficking of children, for marriage equality, against Islamophobia, and for a just economy in which abundance is shared.
At Auburn Media, 821 faith leaders – the largest number in our 10 years of service – came for media training to learn to speak out effectively through the press for justice. Some of our trainees are making serious noise:
Sister Simone Campbell, of “Nuns on the Bus” fame
Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core
Joanna Brooks, progressive feminist Mormon
Gene Robinson, openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire,
and our own Director of Groundswell Valarie Kaur—are making some serious noise.
At Auburn’s Center for the Study of Theological Education we are preparing to launch our Pathways to Seminary study, in which five years of intensive research will show how the best candidates for 21st century religious leadership get their start. This is the next generation of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, Dorothy Day's, Reinhold Niebuhr's, and lesser known heroes – clergy, professors and activists across the country, like my dad.
Auburn is also diving into a multiyear education initiative to invest in and encourage entrepreneurial religious leadership—studying and coaching faith leaders to create new and vibrant communities of faith, committed to justice and compassionate community life for generations to come.