Minnesota Multi-faith Network

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The mission of the Minnesota Multi-faith Network is to be the statewide network supporting faith and interfaith leaders and organizations who work for a more just and loving world. MnMN believes that a network approach will help communities of faith fully realize their potential to mobilize the broader community to address critical issues affecting our common life, particularly: divisive and destructive intergroup relationships; disparities of privilege, opportunity, equity and quality of life; and degradation of the environment.

 

Minnesota Multi-faith Network (MnMN) is a vision for maximizing the potential of interfaith work in Minnesota. It attempts to consolidate the work of two Twin Cities interfaith networks—the Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN) and the Twin Cities Interfaith Network (TCIN)—into a statewide network. The Reverend Tom Duke, founder of SPIN and former director of the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches (recently renamed Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul) was successful in his interfaith organizing efforts at the city-wide level. He and other prominent faith leaders in the Twin Cities came together to brainstorm what could come next from interfaith work at large in Minnesota. Eventually, they envisioned the work that would be undertaken by MnMN. Hundreds of faith organizations are working to address issues in their own communities, and through MnMN they will be able to connect with organizations and leaders doing similar work, creating collaborative and educational opportunities. For Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker of Mount Zion Temple in Saint Paul, and chair of MnMN’s advisory board, the usefulness of a statewide interfaith network has never been more apparent:

If you’re looking at the landscape of multifaith efforts, there are some really significant things happening right now because of George Floyd’s murder and because of COVID-19, and it will in all likelihood just dissipate in the coming years without the Minnesota Multi-faith Network… [For example] after George Floyd’s murder, the governor [Tim Walz] pulled together faith leaders to speak to this moment. It was about encouraging people to stay home and stay safe, and it included the panoply of faith leaders. This was the moment built for the Minnesota Multi-faith Network, pulling people together to address pressing issues. Imagine that group coming back together a year later, to create a place of learning and collaboration around that moment. That’s what MnMN is supposed to do… MnMN can hold those relationships going forward in a way that’s transformative and long term.[1]

The vision of MnMN is “about creating the context for people to relate to each other… it’s about convening people… for people to communicate with each other.” This infrastructure of convening and communication, according to Rabbi Spilker, is not something that has existed in an organized capacity before MnMN. For the rabbi, MnMN is valuable because it is a network, not an organization: “A network is about relationship building, an organization is about ‘We stand for this.’” MnMN convenes leaders and community partners through events like its annual conference, and facilitates communication through a centralized platform promoting the wide breadth of Minnesota interfaith work. For Rabbi Spilker, these two pillars of convening and communicating are “sufficient, holy, and beautiful.”

MnMN was in its infancy as an organization before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In Fall 2019, they began to incorporate as a 501c3, and in December 2019, MnMN leaders held a kick-off event at Mount Zion Temple attended by over 150 leaders from faith communities state-wide. The spread of the pandemic and consideration of more pressing concerns has seriously hampered MnMN’s growth, but the network that MnMN represents has not been idle as the organization comes to fruition. Curtiss DeYoung of the Minnesota Council of Churches has utilized the advisory board of MnMN under short notice. Randi Roth, executive director of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul, used MnMN to bring together a group of leaders to meet with the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to discuss the well-being of different faith communities during the pandemic.

Outside of the external challenges of the pandemic, there has also been an internal struggle over MnMN’s designation as a network versus an organization. Rabbi Spilker outlines the problem and MnMN’s response:

One of the problems MnMN is having right now is that people want MnMN to stand for something and don’t understand it if it isn’t. But that would defeat the purpose… We hit a struggle with India specifically, and dynamics between some Hindus and some Muslims over India, and it’s really affecting our growth… If we can convince people that the means to convene and communicate is not already there, then people will be able to see that the work of MnMN is enough.

Though the network does not have an agenda per se, faith groups and leaders who are interested in joining must still uphold certain values laid out by MnMN. Instead of adhering to ethical guidelines put forth by institutions like Amnesty International, the advisory council has worked as a group to determine its own values. This policy will be among the founding documents of the network, and as of summer 2020 it is being drafted by local interfaith organizers such as Rabbi Spilker, Naaima Khan of the Bush Foundation, and Hans Gustafson, director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at St. Thomas University. The board of MnMN will review the policy draft in early August 2020.

The dream of MnMN is to build a platform of communication that deepens understanding between citizens and communities:

That level of communication is advocacy, we’re about justice and healing, so we’re not shying away from that purpose, it’s just we’re not saying ‘On behalf of all members of MnMN we say this,’ but rather we are convening and making sure people have the networks to relate beyond themselves and their corner of the universe.

Some of the other current endeavors of MnMN, such as creating a speakers bureau to book a speaker from different religions or creating interfaith hubs throughout Minnesota, aim to create an effective infrastructure that will allow people to come together when needed—in moments of crisis as well as celebration—through the relationships that MnMN cultivates. If MnMN is successful in its venture, it will become a flexible and dynamic coalition of faith leaders who can mobilize at a moment’s notice to respond to the needs of their communities. This network would perfectly compliment other interfaith work being done on the ground in the Twin Cities and across the state to address poverty and systemic oppression. MnMN can be the missing piece of advocacy that brings about the tide of change. But first, the advisory council and interim board of MnMN must get all leaders on the same page with the purpose of MnMN so that mutual understanding and respect can be fostered to help MnMN establish more diverse and sustainable leadership.

[1]  All quotes within this article are from Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker. Interview with author. Saint Paul, MN. July 2020.