Press Release

RELEASE: 12 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2017

Washington, D.C. — As a new presidential administration and congressional and state legislative sessions begin, faith leaders can play a critical role in holding political leaders accountable. Following an election cycle filled with hateful rhetoric about immigrants, women, people with disabilities, people of color, and religious minorities, people of faith will be integral to fighting injustice and ensuring that all people are treated with dignity and equity.

Recognizing the important role that faith leaders play in promoting a more just nation and world, the Center for American Progress released a list of 12 faith leaders to watch in 2017:

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder and editor-in-chief, MuslimGirl
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is the founder and editor-in-chief of MuslimGirl, a news and lifestyle website that shatters misconceptions surrounding Islam in today’s society. Al-Khatahtbeh founded MuslimGirl at age 17 to connect with other young Muslim women with similar experiences growing up in a post-9/11 era. Her ability to spread awareness and acceptance is crucial at a time when anti-Muslim bigotry is so prevalent in the news and even has the support of some elected officials.

Rev. John C. Dorhauer, general minister and president, United Church of Christ
The Rev. John C. Dorhauer serves as the general minister and president of the United Church of Christ. Dorhauer embodies his vision of justice for all by dedicating his time to a variety of causes, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, rights; religious liberty; and environmental justice. His writing demonstrates his deep understanding of progressive religious liberty and concern that the religious right has co-opted the phrase to infringe upon people’s civil rights.

April Baskin, vice president, Audacious Hospitality for the Union for Reform Judaism
April Baskin is the vice president of Audacious Hospitality for the Union for Reform Judaism, an initiative focused on fostering Jewish communities that embrace diversity. She believes that by welcoming groups that have traditionally felt marginalized from mainstream Judaism—including interfaith families, LGBT Jews, Jews with disabilities, unaffiliated Jews, and Jews of color, such as Baskin herself—the Jewish community will be much stronger.

Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop, The Episcopal Church
The Rev. Michael Curry became presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in 2015, and is the first African American to head the mainline Protestant denomination. Embracing diversity has led Curry to approach justice intersectionally. Despite strong objections from other bishops in the global church community, for example, he maintains support for the Episcopal Church’s recent decision to bless same-sex marriages.

North Carolina clergy advocating for transgender rights
Last March, the North Carolina legislature targeted the LGBT community with the passage of H.B. 2, a law that rescinded Charlotte and other cities’ LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances; banned future protections from being passed; and barred transgender people from using restrooms in accordance with their gender identity. Hundreds of the state’s clergy members joined businesses, celebrities, and the general public in opposing H.B. 2, a contrast to those of the religious right who seek to advance a conservative Christian social vision at the exclusion of transgender people, while the controversy over repealing H.B. 2 continues.

Rev. Susan Chorley, associate director and minister of programs, Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry
The Rev. Susan Chorley is a co-founder and board member of Exhale, a national pro-voice talkline for people who have had experiences with abortion. Last year, she garnered attention for breaking a 12-year silence to share her experience as a minister, mother, and woman who had an abortion. While the issue of abortion continues to be deeply divisive, she calls on faith communities to help women who have had abortions find belonging and acceptance.

Sapreet Kaur, executive director, Sikh Coalition
Since starting as executive director in 2009, Sapreet Kaur has transformed the Sikh Coalition into a large and visible civil rights organization that provides legal defense and advocates on issues of hate crimes, racial and religious profiling, and religious liberty. In 2013, Kaur was the first Sikh to speak at a Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service. In all of her work, Kaur prioritizes building bridges within the interfaith community, ensuring that the Sikh Coalition’s advocacy work supports not only Sikh civil rights but also the rights of all people.

Rev. Cedric Harmon, executive director, Many Voices: A Black Church Movement for Gay & Transgender Justice
The Rev. Cedric Harmon is an ordained Baptist minister and the executive director of Many Voices: A Black Church Movement for Gay & Transgender Justice, an organization that envisions a community that embraces the diversity of the human family and ensures that all are treated with love, compassion, and justice. Harmon engages black religious leaders and other people of faith at the intersection of religion, faith, human sexuality, and gender.

Rev. Allyson Robinson, first openly transgender Baptist minister
The Rev. Allyson Robinson is the first openly transgender Baptist minister. Robinson has dedicated her life’s work to promoting LGBT civil rights, diversity, and inclusion because she recognizes that not everyone who identifies as LGBT is as fortunate as she was to find support through their church. Robinson is also the former executive director of OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy organization that works on behalf of service members, veterans, and their families to build a culture of inclusion in the U.S. departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Pastors for Texas Children
Pastors for Texas Children is a network of about 2,000 church leaders across the state that advocates for quality public education. Working with state lawmakers and mobilizing individual churches, the coalition supports public schools and opposes school vouchers, which use taxpayer dollars to fund private and often religious education. The organization cherishes religious liberty and believes that a high-quality education is a gift from God for all people; consequently, it also believes that no overt religious instruction or activity should be advanced or established with tax dollars.

Suhag Shukla and Hindu American Foundation
Suhag Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, or HAF, currently serves as its executive director and legal counsel. An advocacy organization for the Hindu American community, the foundation educates the public about Hinduism; speaks out about issues affecting Hindus worldwide; and works with intrafaith and interfaith organizations to advance its mission of religious liberty. Shukla has positioned HAF as a strong voice in the national debate about the separation of church and state, consistently speaking out about issues of Hinduphobia and the rights of religious minorities.

Tamar Manasseh, founder, Mothers Against Senseless Killings
Tamar Manasseh founded Mothers Against Senseless Killings, or MASK, in 2015 to protect children in her Chicago neighborhood from gun violence during the summer months. A mother of two and a rabbinical student at a local seminary, Manasseh was alarmed into action after a mother in her neighborhood was shot and killed trying to break up a fight. MASK sheds an important light on community-based solutions to gun violence and centers the experience of communities of color, which are often not recognized in gun violence narratives as victims.

Read the column: 12 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2017 by Tracy Wolf and Claire Markham

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Chelsea Kiene at [email protected] or 202.478.5328.

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