This profile was last updated in 2008
The Arizona Interfaith Network’s primary aim is “[to build] relational power for collective actions in the pursuit of justice and the common good [and] act to strengthen family and community in solidarity with others across lines of race, class, and religion.” Through community organizing and leadership development, the Arizona Interfaith Network (AIN) seeks to mobilize individuals for political and social action. Their focus is upon the issues of low-income families, often immigrants, including issues of healthcare, education, immigration, long-term care, safety of children and youth, wages and benefits, and transportation.
AIN (along with its sister organization, the Arizona Institute for Public Life) was formed in 1997 through the linking of five Arizona affiliates of the Industrial Areas Foundation (a national network of local agencies). These 5 organizations (Valley Interfaith Project, Pima County Interfaith Council, Yuma County Interfaith, and Northern Arizona Interfaith Council) are each comprised of a number of community institutions including religious congregations, schools, unions, etc. The grassroots, broad-based structure of AIN has helped them to accomplish many reforms within their community since their inception. These accomplishments are evident within many realms of community life. In education, AIN established permanent facilities for adult education programs and expanded funding for after-school programs. In employment, AIN helped establish a labor market intermediary organization to give workers the training needed to compete for jobs with higher pay and better benefits and also encouraged state adoption of living wage ordinances. AIN also led campaigns to increase voter turnout and to inform voters on key issues affecting their neighborhoods and livelihoods.
The Arizona Interfaith Network’s organizational philosophy puts a strong emphasis on the continual development of local leadership as the basis for social progress. In keeping with this philosophy, they have developed a specific strategy for recruiting and training individuals to lead action on issues of importance to their communities. The first step and foundation of this strategy is an individual meeting between AIN leaders and community members. As defined in their glossary of terms, “the individual meeting is a one-on-one conversation, our most basic recruiting tool.” This meeting centers around discussions of issues and is designed to build relationships and identify potential leaders. House meetings of 10 to 15 community members, organized by newly identified leaders, are then used as a means to bring concerns into an open forum. The new leaders must test their organizational skills making sure that the forum doesn’t degenerate into a “gripe session,” but rather serves as a catalyst for action. The issues discussed at house meetings are then followed up on by “research actions” and seminars that explore possible policy solutions to the problems. In a research action, volunteer leaders meet with public officials, professors, institutions and bureaucrats knowledgeable about the issue at hand in order to develop a more in-depth understanding of the issue. Seminars are conducted every six to eight weeks for volunteer leaders and professional organizers, and are designed as conversations between scholars and local leadership about a particular problem. AIN’s interfaith work comes to the surface more in their organization than in their programs and issues. By drawing potential leaders from a multiplicity of single-faith organizations into a shared space, the organization provides an environment that conditions community leaders to consider the struggles facing other communities and draw upon the diverse strengths of a larger, multi-faith community as they consider how to move forward by developing “action strategies.” Although its membership base consists primarily of communities of faith, and the social activism of the members is largely fueled by their individual faiths, AIN concerns itself primarily with the work to be done in the community rather than the motivations behind that work. In so doing, it has created a neutral space where members of different faith traditions can come together not only with each other based on their common concerns and shared desire to act for change, but with secular individuals, organizations, and institutions. The Arizona Republic attributes the following description of the Arizona Interfaith Network to Phoenix Representative Bill Brotherton: “The network has a moderate approach and diverse membership that reflects the nation as a whole… the concerns outlined by the network are more broad-based than narrow-focused special interest groups and are likely get more attention…a lot of the issues that they come and talk to us about deal with those who are the most vulnerable in society.” While this environment does not shut out discussions of religious differences or opportunities to learn more fully about the unique traditions of other faiths (see the information sources), the focus remains on constructive discussion of issues relevant to the larger community, secular and faithful alike. The strategy of continual leadership development likewise demonstrates the organization’s continual commitment to representing communities’ racial, religious, and political diversity as fully as possible. The Arizona Interfaith Network is, by the very nature of its work and organizational philosophy, a constantly evolving representative body whose position at the crossroads of interfaith work and community action allows it to act as a model for all communities, both of faith and otherwise.
Central Issue: Immigration Reform
In an editorial submitted to the Arizona Capitol Times, AIN member Brother Charles Fitzsimmons quotes Deuteronomy 10:17-19, “Befriend the immigrant, for you yourselves were once immigrants” to explain why immigration reform is an issue of concern to people of faith. While AIN has defined and taken positions on many issues relating to the welfare of the community, immigration reform has emerged as one of the central issues. AIN’s involvement in immigration reform clearly demonstrates the organization’s strategy of identification, research, information dissemination, and action on community issues. AIN has articulated a “Statement on Immigration”, which calls on communities of faith to respond to the issue of migrant deaths, immigration policy, and border control, putting forth that “As Arizonans, we have a special responsibility to reach out and welcome our brothers and sisters as members of God’s family.” At the Multi-Faith Border Conference in Tucson on March 18th, 2004, as well as at the Arizona Interfaith Network Convocation on Immigration in Phoenix on April 19th, 2004, the members of the Network defined six “Faith-Based Principles on Migration/Immigration Issues,” and, based on those principles, put forth five “Faith-Based Policy Recommendations for Immigration Reform.” To read the statements, click here.
Although immigration reform is one of the central foci for AIN, there are also a number of other issues of importance for the organization. AIN believes that all persons should have access to quality healthcare and supports community investments for developing public health strategies. Similarly, AIN supports investments in long-term care for the growing elderly population of Arizona. AIN also believes that children and youth should have the opportunity to live in crime-free, environmentally safe neighborhoods with affordable housing, rich educational opportunities, and recreational areas. AIN asserts that all people should earn a living wage and that community infrastructure, such as public transportation systems, should provide reliable access to jobs and businesses.