March 27th, 2009 – by Emily Benner
My internship at The Faith & Politics Institute has been an exciting plunge into the world of Capitol Hill. Faith & Politics, an interfaith organization, works to bridge the divides in our society by providing opportunities for members of Congress to unite their work with principles of compassion, healing, and forgiveness.
Because of FPI’s relationships with those in the political world, I’ve been able to have experiences like attending the Attorney General’s confirmation hearing and seeing President Obama speak in the Capitol building. My most meaningful opportunity, however, was when we led a congressional civil rights pilgrimage to Alabama. With almost 200 guests, including more than two dozen members of Congress, diplomats, media personalities, and others, we traveled to Alabama to visit civil rights historical sites and to hear from those involved in the movement. I rode on the same bus as Congressman John Lewis, a leader in the civil rights movement, and heard heartbreaking stories of the hate and violence he experienced. I participated in a role play led by Rev. Jim Lawson, the nonviolent theorist who studied under Gandhi and taught nonviolence to Martin Luther King, Jr. and others involved in the civil rights movement. I marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma 44 years after hundreds of African-Americans were brutally attacked by state troopers there during a peaceful march for voting rights.
Of all these experiences and others, my favorite moment came in a small church in Selma. The daughter of former Alabama governor George Wallace, the segregationist who famously tried to stop the desegregation of the University of Alabama, introduced the morning speaker, Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder, our first black Attorney General, is also the brother-in-law of one of the students Governor Wallace blocked from entering the University of Alabama. Seeing the reconciliation of these two families and hearing them both express forgiveness and a desire for healing, along with an acknowledgement of the work yet to be done, brought tears to my eyes. It was a beautiful example of the possibilities for racial reconciliation and reignited my hope that our country can find restoration and healing in other areas of conflict. I was reminded that faith and politics don’t need to be mutually exclusive, and that the principles that guide my life through faith can and should be related to my opinions about public policy. I am hopeful that, as a nation, we can learn from the tragic mistakes of our past and move forward in reconciliation and healing.