The Arizona Interfaith Movement’s mission is to build bridges of understanding, respect, and support among diverse people of faith through education, dialogue, service, and the implementation of the Golden Rule.
Paul Eppinger described the foundation of the Arizona Interfaith Movement (AZIFM) in three words: “understanding, respect, and support.” AZIFM brings together individuals and congregations in the Phoenix area to share and apply the Golden Rule, the simple but powerful moral maxim: treat others as you want to be treated. The AZIFM shares the message of the Golden Rule through partnerships with state government and local businesses.
The seeds of AZIFM were planted in 1995 when Eppinger, a member of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, met a Mormon community member who was vocal about his commitment to embodying the Golden Rule. Eppinger saw this man reach out to religious leaders of various traditions in order to better understand their respective faiths and practices, and was inspired to implement this practice on an organizational level.
After discussion within the Ecumenical Council, Eppinger and eight colleagues from diverse religious traditions decided to found the Arizona Interfaith Movement. This initial group made up AZIFM’s first Board of Directors. Early on in AZIFM’s history, the Golden Rule became a unifying theme for the organization. They decided on a mission for the group: encourage understanding, harbor respect, and build support between members of different faiths. One initiative in particular, the creation of the Golden Rule license plates through the state of Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Department, has served to help sustain the AZIFM and increase awareness about their work and the Golden Rule within the broader community.
The Golden Rule license plates depict an iconic Arizona landscape of the Grand Canyon, a Saguaro cactus, and a sunrise. The words “Live the Golden Rule” shine out below the license plate number. The AZIFM’s license plate project faced challenges in the beginning, as government officials were hesitant to agree to support a slogan with potentially religious undertones. Eppinger said that political leaders were concerned that authorizing such a message on license plates might violate the separation of Church and State. His response to this concern? “[T]he Golden Rule is not a religious practice from one particular faith tradition that we are trying to force down the throat of anybody else; rather, it is a life principle and . . . the Golden Rule is in the scripture and teaching of every faith and is included in many secular organizations as a part of their ethical guidelines.”
Once the AZIFM convinced government officials of the universal nature of the Golden Rule, the license plate was approved by the Arizona House of Representatives, State Senate, and governor in a process that took several months and a large financial investment from AZIFM to complete. The pre-existing personal relationships of the organization with members of the Arizona government proved to be a huge asset in the project’s success. Furthermore, AZIFM's extensive community networks enabled the organization to quickly raise the large sums of money necessary to begin making the license plates. While there was great risk involved in this initiative, it has proven quite successful: Eppinger estimated that there are thousands of Golden Rule license plates on the road, virtual traveling advertisements for the movement. In addition to increasing the visibility of the Golden Rule, the AZIFM receives $17 per license plate sold; proceeds are earmarked for Golden Rule educational initiatives.
The success of the license plate initiative allowed AZIFM to launch a high-impact awareness campaign at local cinemas in 2010. The organization produced a minute-long video clip featuring children from several different faiths stating the Golden Rule from their religious or secular tradition. Eppinger explained that the commercial is “a beautiful little thing . . . we had a little Sikh boy with his little turban telling the Golden Rule from the Sikh scripture and then we had a little Muslim child, and then a Christian child, and then a Buddhist, Jewish and Secular child.” This commercial was played before featured movies began and was viewed by nearly two million people when it aired from mid-December to mid-January in eighteen regional theaters. The AZIFM strategically chose to invest in airtime during the weeks surrounding the winter holidays—a peak time for moviegoers with more vacation time. They mounted a similar campaign in 2011 that included a picture of the Golden Rule license plate.
AZIFM’s work goes beyond marketing, as the organization consistently engages numerous religious communities. For example, AZIFM hosts multiple events throughout the year, including an annual Golden Rule Awards Banquet and Experience Interfaith. The organization also supports religious communities in times of need, and creates forums in which people of various faiths can engage.
AZIFM serves as a model for how interfaith organizations can cultivate partnerships with government and business to build momentum for the movement. The organization has taken risks, such as making sizable financial investments in the license plates and Golden Rule commercial. But these risks have paid off in the fulfillment of one of the organization’s primary objectives: to spread the message of the Golden Rule. In July 2011, the Arizona Interfaith Movement was able to share its message with interfaith leaders from around the United States when they hosted the 2011 North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) conference in Phoenix. By consistently engaging a diverse range of religious communities, AZIFM has continued to expand and broadcast the principle of the Golden Rule to an ever-increasing audience.