History of The Faith & Politics Institute

When Rep. Glenn Poshard, Ms. Anne Bartley, Rev. Joe Eldridge, and Rev. Doug Tanner formed the first reflection group, they didn’t realize their experience would lead to the creation of an organization focused on nurturing the inner lives of members of Congress and others professionally involved in public life. It was not long before The Faith & Politics Institute was founded in 1991 with the hope of providing opportunities for meaningful interactions and experiences among those who lead and serve our nation. The early days of the Institute were paralleled by the Common Ground program, which organized opportunities for congressional members and staff to help rebuild churches burned by arsonists in the mid-1990s.

In 1997, then Institute President Rev. Doug Tanner sought to involve members of Congress more closely with the Institute and proposed his idea to Representative Amo Houghton (R-NY) and Representative John Lewis (D-GA). These two individuals agreed to serve as the co-chairmen of the Institute’s Board of Directors. With their leadership, the Institute’s work expanded considerably and brought in increasing numbers of people on Capitol Hill with an interest in reflection and conversation across racial, religious, ideological and party lines. Since that time, the Institute has helped to cultivate a spiritual community of men and women who seek “a better way to do the people’s business.”

The cultivation of this spiritual community has taken many forms. In 1998, under the guidance of Rep. Lewis, the Institute began to lead pilgrimages to civil rights sites in Alabama. Since then, the Institute has led twelve pilgrimages to Alabama, and pilgrimages to Farmville, Virginia, to Mississippi, and to the Gulf Coast to commemorate the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Over the years, more than 150 members of Congress have participated in pilgrimages with The Faith & Politics Institute. In 2003, the Institute used this pilgrimage model to lead a Congressional Delegation to South Africa to study the process of racial reconciliation. In addition to leading pilgrimages, the Institute has sponsored forums to spark debate and foster conversation, featuring speakers including The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, Dr. Alex Boraine, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sister Helen Prejean, author Robert Fulghum, and former Senator George Mitchell. These special programs have built upon the foundation of continued weekly reflection groups and periodic retreats.

In 2006, Rev. Doug Tanner retired as president of the Institute. Rev. Clete Kiley led the organization as president until 2010 when the Rev. Mark Farr became president.  The current president, appointed by the Board of Directors in June, 2012 is Elizabeth L. McCloskey.  Since 2008 the FPI’s Board of Directors has guided the Institute with a visionmission and strategic objectives designed to position the Institute as a leading organization on Capitol Hill.

As we claim this institutional legacy, we also propose to take the Institute into a new generation. We have moved from being a little-known organization on Capitol Hill to being one with a solid reputation and confidence among many members of Congress. We are well positioned to serve as the leading organization on Capitol Hill promoting effective government through reflective leadership, engaging members of Congress in opportunities for racial, religious and political reconciliation so that our leaders can take up the difficult and challenging issues of the nation in a constructive and bipartisan way.