Female faith leaders taking a stand against violence, hate, racism

Female faith leaders taking a stand against violence, hate, racism

Thirty-one female faith leaders in East Central Illinois have come together to call for courage in the face of any form of "violence, hatred, racism, intolerance and social injustice."

The declaration, about a half-page long, commits the 31 members of the year-old Sisters in Faith Leadership group to "challenge the resurgence of groups ... who are promoting dangerous, white-supremacist, far-right ideologies."

It also cites a statement by the Charlottesville Clergy Collective in Virginia that called for unity and justice in the wake of the Unite the Right rally in August that turned violent, leaving one woman dead and 38 people injured.

Cindy Shepherd, outreach director for Faith in Place, a nonprofit working with faith communities to promote "earthcare," signed the letter and is a founding member of the year-old group. She and the Rev. Linda Siddall of Unity Church and Spiritual Center started it.

The declaration was largely in response to recent threats and instances of harassment made to members of the University of Illinois community by far-right groups.

The Rev. Florence Caplow of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Champaign-Urbana said the high number of UI-connected people at her church made her feel that something needed to be said.

"I was heartbroken. Many people in my congregation are vulnerable to this," Caplow said. "And this is happening all over the country.

"Anything can provoke these threats, too, and once it goes out through the network of these far-right media, it just snowballs really fast. And a person or family can find themselves literally under siege and get terrifying threats."

Shepherd said the past year has troubled her and the rest of the faith community, as discussions on faith and politics become more contentious and opinions more polarized.

Threats and harassment by far-right groups have abounded since President Donald Trump's election in 2016. A report by the FBI in 2017 found that there were 6,100 reported incidents of hate crimes in 2016, up from more than 5,800 the year before.

"The times reflect a spirit of intolerance," she said. "There's been a breakdown of civil discourse, so we felt that as faith leaders, we wanted to make a statement and invite people to join us and say that this is not the way that we want to be."

Caplow and the Rev. Patricia Havis penned the document and have both long stood for mutual respect between people and fostering spiritual direction and community engagement to combat the kind of hate these faith leaders want to act against. It's also a way to publicly introduce the group to the community.

"We felt that we ought to become visible to the community," Havis said.

"It's a response to criticism that the faith community isn't doing anything to combat hate. But this is where we stand, and we do have thoughts about it all."

The group will host a public event by March to address the issues brought up in the declaration, although they have not yet narrowed down a date.

But members say these discussions have been going on since spring 2017.

The Sisters in Faith Leadership describe themselves as a network of female faith leaders in East Central Illinois that aims to give collegial support for women whose primary vocation is a faith-based ministry.

Shepherd describes it as a multi-racial, "sort of cross-cultural" group — and really, they just enjoy each other's company.

They found themselves agreeing so much at their meetings that they decided to make the declaration and begin work on "healing the community."

"We want to become an effective viable voice against racism, and terrorism, and Nazism, and all the other 'isms' that are plaguing the area," Havis said. "This is where we stand."

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CallSaul wrote on February 13, 2018 at 10:02 am

It's sad that it's come to this...

But when we have a racist and bigoted president who calls nazis, KKK terrorists and white supremacists murderers 'very fine people,' decent people have to take a stand against his and his rabid supporters' unbridled hate and resentment.

These women, respected leaders in our communities, represent what's best in America and they stand in stark contrast to the current president...who proudly represents what's worst about us...

BruckJr wrote on February 13, 2018 at 2:02 pm

Where are the men?  Is this some misogynist  far-left hate group?

CallSaul wrote on February 13, 2018 at 3:02 pm


This is the absolute best response the rightwing reactionary trolls can muster.

They don't cheer these leaders for opposing hate and resentment.

Of coure not...

Instead they feel --- and so respond with --- nothing but hate and resentment towards those who take the supposedly extreme stance of opposing racism, hate and bigotry...

This is the reactionary rightwing in America today: they hate and resent those who dare to openly oppose racism and hatred. 

This is the core of Trump's Fox 'news' viewing and Sean Hannity worshipping base who overwhelmingly dominate the old Republican party, which is now and forever the Party of Trump...

Their only response to an article about local leaders opposing hatred, racism, resentment and bigotry is to write a silly taunt and, no doubt, to then chuckle and giggle endlessly thinking about how clever they are for thinking it up all on their own...

Jack2 wrote on February 18, 2018 at 6:02 pm

Don't feed the trolls.


Rev Florence wrote on February 13, 2018 at 6:02 pm

I am one of the signers of the Declaration. It is unfortunate that the News-Gazette chose not to print or even quote the actual document. For readers who are interested, the Declaration can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1p82qe3Jv22nSeFrN0RTP4tR_fVuIthrj/view?usp=sharing. Readers can also learn more on our Facebook page ("Women in Faith Leadership Declaration Against Hate"), including a link to signing the Declaration, in solidarity and support. I hope the editors will consider sharing our words as they were written. Please comment if you would also like to see the Declaration published in the News Gazette.

rsp wrote on February 14, 2018 at 8:02 pm

Thank you for posting this. I hope they publish it because not everyone reads online.