'Tis the season to be generous, but for some, charity doesn't start and stop with the holidays. For Pam Baldwin, director of Idaho's Interfaith Alliance, charity is a 60-hour workweek. Baldwin lobbies lawmakers for fair policy, works with state agencies to make sure the homeless are warm in winter and organizes several regional chapters of the alliance.
BW: What exactly is the Interfaith Alliance?
PB: It started in Idaho in 1998. We were incubated by United Vision for Idaho. I was an organizer for UVI at the time, and we gathered as many lay people and clergy from different faiths to form the organization which believes religion should be used as a healing force instead of a divisive force. We work on all kinds of issues in Idaho including social, economic and environmental justice issues. We now have several regional chapters across the state.
How did you build your reputation in Idaho?
One of the first things we did as an organization was to coordinate "Voices of Faith for Human Rights" forums across the state. That's how we built our reputation and our membership. It went from about 40 people to a mailing list of 1,000-plus.
Do members pay dues?
It was that we would just let people donate, but now dues run anywhere from $15 to what people want to donate. Dues go to help with projects we work on and to pay staff.
What are these projects?
For the Faith and Sexuality Project, we do workshops about oppression and heterosexism in faith groups. These are roundtable discussions in houses of worships to help folks learn about institutionalized homophobia and heterosexism. We also have the Interfaith Religious Leader network, where local interfaith religious leaders meet monthly to discuss things that connect faith to current issues. It's how the discussion of the homeless crisis in Idaho started.
How has the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho worked for social change?
Because we are not a church and our membership ranges from people of faith in goodwill to atheists, we gather a broad coalition of people to work on things. For example, next Wednesday, we have a vigil on the federal budget. I believe the federal budget is moral document. The way we spend our money is where our heart is. Giving tax breaks to millionaires instead of to others who need it shows our heart is in a different place than most people in this country really believe it is.
What's it like to work in such a diverse activist group?
I think now more than any other time, when politics and religion are so intertwined in a way never seen in this country before, people should understand the importance of the separation of church and state. The alliance looks at all sides of the "religio-politico" phenomenon, where organizations seem religious but are political. It confuses people. Churches get money, but they don't have to act in the way that most people would think if they're taking taxpayer money. [In both the national organization and locally, we work to promote] what houses of worship can put out without crossing the line.