EDS Alumna Reflects on New Leadership Role in the Religious Institute

Marie Alford-Harkey

EDS alumna Marie Alford-Harkey ’10 was recently announced as the new president and CEO of the Religious Institute, a multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society.

Alford-Harkey currently serves as the Religious Institute’s deputy director. She is actively engaged in training faith communities, seminaries, LGBTQ organizations, and sexual and reproductive health organizations on addressing religious issues, as well as encouraging American congregations to stand with activists around the world to end violence and persecution against LGBTQ people.

Below, Alford-Harkey talks about what she hopes to achieve in her new leadership role in the Religious Institute, and how EDS developed her calling to ministry.

Faith Communities as Justice Communities

We are at a time when institutional religion’s influence is waning in society. However, that doesn’t mean that religion itself is no longer influential, it just means that people are finding new and different ways to engage with their faith. As we continue the mission of the Religious Institute, I want to expand our notion of what we define as a “faith community.” We know that for many people, their faith community is the community with which they engage in justice work. I want to find ways of expanding the Religious Institute’s work in partnership with these non-institutional faith communities.

We are also at a “movement moment” in this country. I believe that in order to make the most of this moment, all of us who are working for justice—whether as part of an organized movement, an organization, or as individuals—can find ways to work together and to really show up for each other. This kind of intersectional work means that we must find ways to operate from the core belief that everyone’s liberation truly is bound up together.

Practical Theologians

One of the greatest things about my EDS education is the connections I made: in the Metropolitan Community Churches (where I anticipate being ordained in the fall), in The Episcopal Church, in seminaries within and outside of the Boston Theological Institute, and in the world of religious activism.

What I learned is that theology is not only an academic discipline. Being a practical theologian means that it is just as much ministry to work for justice as it is to pastor a church.

My coursework and my relationships with faculty and mentors taught me to always question the status quo, and to attend to who is being left out—of scriptural interpretations, of our communities, of our theology. Because the foundation of an EDS education is anti-racism work, I learned how to value and honor diversity and how to work and have dialogue across differences of race, class, sexuality, and gender.

Most of all, I learned how my love of Jesus and my love of justice come together in a call to help make the world better—to work to bring about God’s commonwealth on earth.

This article has been condensed and edited from an interview conducted with Marie Alford-Harkey.