Washington, D.C. — From climate change to gun violence to civil rights, religious leaders are on the front lines championing major progressive change. After four years of resisting policies that denied the dignity and rights of all people, these bold leaders are now working to build a more just and equitable world.
Today, the Center for American Progress announced 21 faith leaders to watch in 2021. The annual list celebrates those leaders—some well-known and others newly on the scene—who are using their platforms to fight for justice.
“From dealing with the challenges of the pandemic to confronting the nation’s racial reckoning, these faith leaders have provided moral clarity for the nation while also offering pastoral care for their own communities,” said Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at CAP. “Their support for social justice will continue to help build a stronger nation and a more sustainable economy.”
Past editions of CAP’s annual list have highlighted notable faith leaders including the Rev. William Barber, Sister Simone Campbell, and Valarie Kaur.
This year’s 21 faith leaders to watch are:
Hyepin Im, founder and president of Faith and Community Empowerment, a nonprofit organization that seeks to create a voice for the Korean and Asian American community in Los Angeles and across the country.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, scholar-in-residence at the National Council of Jewish Women, which strives to improve the lives and rights of women, children, and families through grassroots education and advocacy work.
The Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, deputy director and chief faith officer of Faith in Action, formerly known as the PICO National Network. He is also the president of the board of directors of the Alliance of Baptists, a national network of progressive Baptist churches.
Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., that has been instrumental in advocating for an end to former President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.
Jamie Manson, the new president of Catholics for Choice, who has devoted her career to writing about Catholicism, LGBTQ rights, and reproductive freedom.
Jemar Tisby, assistant director of narrative and advocacy at the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research and president of The Witness, a Black Christian collective.
Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding and senior rabbi of IKAR, an innovative Jewish spiritual community in Los Angeles.
Mary Novak, the new executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and formerly the associate director of mission integration at the Georgetown University Law Center.
Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies and interim chair of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the author of the book White Evangelical Racism.
Sunita Viswanath, co-founder and board member of both Hindus for Human Rights and Sadhana, a coalition of progressive Hindus. She is also the founder and board chair of Women for Afghan Women and serves as the Hindu religious life adviser at Columbia University.
Shantha Ready Alonso, former executive director of Creation Justice Ministries, where her work focused on environmental justice through a faith lens of care for God’s creation. This year she was appointed director of intergovernmental and external affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City and author of the forthcoming book Fierce Love: A Bold Path to a Better Life and a Better World. She also organizes the annual Revolutionary Love Conference at Middle Collegiate Church and is a senior fellow at Auburn Seminary in New York.
Rob Taber, an assistant professor in Latin American history at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina and an influential voice of faith as a political organizer and consultant working in the Latter-day Saints community.
Angela Ferrell-Zabala, head of movement building at Everytown for Gun Safety, who has spent her career creating strong partnerships between secular social justice organizations and faith communities.
Michael Vazquez, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Religion and Faith Program and founder of Brave Commons, which works to support LGBTQ rights on Christian college campuses.
Catherine Orsborn and Nina Fernando, the outgoing and incoming executive directors, respectively, of the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign, which mobilizes people of all faiths to counter anti-Muslim bigotry and works in solidarity with the Muslim American community. Orsborn has assumed a new role as a capacity-building consultant to the El-Hibri Foundation, a philanthropic organization that empowers Muslim leaders and their allies.
Sabrina Dent, senior faith adviser at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. She is also the co-editor and a contributing author of the recently published book African Americans and Religious Freedom: New Perspectives for Congregations and Communities.
The Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, a Presbyterian minister and a doctoral candidate in religious studies at Indiana University, co-minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis, Maryland, and a writer on faith, hope, church, and inclusion.
Bishop Karen Oliveto, leader of the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) Mountain Sky Episcopal Area and the first openly lesbian bishop in the UMC.
Hazel Gómez, a community organizer, trainer, and curriculum developer who works closely with the Muslim Power Building Project at Faith in Action, a comprehensive community organizing and leadership development program for Muslims nationwide.
Read the column: “21 Faith Leaders To Watch in 2021” by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons and Maggie Siddiqi
For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at gro.ssergorpnacirema@lenanahs or 202-478-6327.