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Faith Voices Arkansas, founded in 1994 as a chapter of the Interfaith Alliance national organization, has morphed from an organization focused on pulling together ministers and lay leaders from across the religious spectrum for “civil dialogue” about the intersection of faith and politics into a faith-based organization of the political left in the state. Since its founding, the organization has also waxed and waned in its level of visibility and activity.
The national organization of which Faith Voices Arkansas was formed as a state chapter had come into being in early 1994 “to challenge the bigotry and hatred arising from religious and political extremism infiltrating American politics.” The Arkansas Interfaith Conference (renamed Interfaith Arkansas two decades later) sponsored the creation of a chapter in Arkansas (the second in the nation) in July 1994. It was known as the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance (AIA). On November 1, 1994, a steering committee for an Arkansas chapter came together under the leadership of United Methodist minister Ed Matthews to guide the efforts in the state. Early planning documents emphasize the goal of “providing a civil, supportive atmosphere for those with differing opinions to have their voices heard.” Indeed, the initial membership of the group included individuals from across the religious spectrum, including Larry L. Page of the conservative Christian Civic Foundation of Arkansas. In early May 1995, the AIA held a daylong meeting centered on “inspir[ing] the God-given ability to move constructively through the many issues and circumstances which seem to polarize people.”
Later that same month, the national Christian Coalition, under the leadership of director Ralph Reed, announced the ten-point “Contract with the American Family,” which called for, among other things, the privatization of certain spheres of government and the public financing of religious schools through vouchers. The AIA, now claiming more 300 members from various faiths, was highly visible in the state in responding to the announcement of the “Contract.” At that phase, however, the AIA applauded the opportunity to have frank conversations about the proper role of faith in the policy arena rather than advocating a particular viewpoint.
By the time the organization officially incorporated in early 1998, with Rabbi Eugene Levy as president of the group, however, the AIA had shifted subtly in its mission from an entity focused on promoting civil dialogue about polarizing issues to “promot[ing] the religious principles of compassion, tolerance, and justice in the public arena.” While not leaving behind its early commitment to civility, the organization had become more clearly left-centered by this time, and more right-wing individuals involved early on in the organization’s history had left the organization’s ranks. During the decade that followed, the AIA would occasionally raise a voice on issues in the public arena but lacked ongoing visibility.
In the 2010s, the organization became reinvigorated under the leadership of United Methodist minister Stephen Copley, centering its work on the state legislative arena by developing a legislative agenda, tracking legislation, and regularly providing testimony in legislative hearings. The agenda of the organization—from economic justice to environmental policy to civil rights—has generally expressed views from the political left, with a faith perspective. In January 2017, the organization was renamed Faith Voices Arkansas.
For additional information:Faith Voices Arkansas. https://faithfactsvoice.wordpress.com/ (accessed February 21, 2017).
Sandlin, Jake. “Jury Still Out on Coalition Contract.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 18, 1995, p. 8A.
Taylor, Juanita. “Alliance Seeks ‘Climate of Civility.’” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 6, 1995, p. 4E, 5E.
Jay BarthHendrix College
Last Updated 2/21/2017
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