Think, Pray, Act!: The BiblioMinistry Primer and Resource Guide to FBCO in Faith Communities

BiblioMinistry is a religious organization. Our educational model, Missional Faith Learning, integrates faith, intellect, and action, helping people and communities of faith more fruitfully live out their faith convictions and commitments, some of which are involved in community justice and organizing movements. To that end we offer the following resources for proactively living your faith in the midst of whatever storms may come. As a progressive Christian activist, you’re in good company with a number of liberation theologians, including Oscar Romero, Paulo FreireDorothy DayElisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Rosemary Radford Ruether, James Cone, Katie Geneva Cannon, Delores S. Williams, Elsa Tamez, and so many others. Let us never forget, of course, forget that Jesus himself, Mary Magdalene, and many other named and unnamed people in the Bible were faithful to God even when the powers and principalities surrounding them were inhospitable to their ideas of God and God’s realm.

BiblioMinistry is in the process of developing a curriculum for churches who are interested in more formally or overtly integrating faith, intellect, and activism in the form of faith-based community organizing work in their congregations. While there has been much good work done with the major FBCO networks, it appears as if much of their training focuses very much on the practical, tactical ways by which this work gets done, rather than integrating this with the spiritual and intellectual/educational dimensions of this important, necessary, and Christian work. On the other hand, people and communities of faith often seem to be better at understanding the spiritual dimensions and necessities of God’s justice, while not necessarily being educated and trained up in the concrete realities of faith-based community activism. It is time to truly integrate these perspectives, so that people of faith can not only believe in, but “proactivistly” do the work of building and shaping God’s realm of love and justice. As Bonhoeffer entreats in his sermon on II Corinthians, 12:9, “Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.” While this post is by no means an exhaustive guide to FBCO resources, it introduces you and your faith community to several current resources on the journey toward God’s love and justice.

Think: Intellect

The rise of fake and deliberately misleading news is troubling, and has led to some particularly nasty consequences. It is difficult to measure the impact that fake news has on our society, but it clearly impacted the 2016 presidential election. Freedom of speech operates on the assumption that those who speak are acting in good faith; free speech is threatened and undermined when bad actors put forth deliberately false or misleading news. Concepts such as media literacyinformation literacy, and metaliteracy provide us with incredibly valuable frameworks in which to find, access, evaluate, integrate, and create information. Accurate information leads to more and better-informed people, an essential part of both vibrant faith and secular communities!

One of the things that has enabled these information frameworks to become so prevalent is an open Internet. All people, including people of faith, who value intellectual freedom, must be prepared to robustly defend net neutrality: the concept that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot make web sites or customers pay more for internet fast lanes (thus creating internet slow lanes). That is it. Net Neutrality is a cornerstone of 21st century intellectual freedom and equality, and those who wish you to believe otherwise probably would like you to pay more for fast lane internet service as described above.

All things (including religion) should be compelling enough on their own merits that there is no need to try to argue, manipulate, or mislead anyone into believing untruths, half-truths, or twisted truths about something in order to embrace it or be a part of it. This is why freedom of information and intellectual curiosity is such an important part of learning and something that BiblioMinistry encourages. No question is stupid or unworthy of being asked; curiosity leads us down the sacred path of learning into new revelation.

Books About Faith-Based Community Organizing

There are several reassuring similarities between many of these books. Key themes include: the importance of relationship-building both in and outside of congregations; building and analyzing power structures in one’s community context; deciding what is an issue versus what is a problem; and implementing community organizing concepts and structures within one’s local faith community. You can’t go wrong with reading any of these – so please, get whatever you can and give it some deep and attentive reading. Read one as a Bible study!

Building a People of Power: Equipping Churches to Transform Their Communities

Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing

Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World

Gifts of an Uncommon Life: The Practice of Contemplative Activism

The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-Taking, Justice-Seeing, Disciple-Making Congregation

Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of Jesus Wherever You Live

Organizing Church: Grassroots Practices for Embodying Change in Your Congregation, Your Community, and Our World

Overrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing  the World Than Actually Changing the World?

Pray: Faith

Our current broader societal context may be a time in which faith wears thin. While all Christians need to pray and read their Bibles regularly, religious progressives (who have on the whole tended to do these less than our more conservative sisters and brothers in Christ) need these spiritual practices to sustain us through difficult spiritual times. It can be helpful, now, more than ever, to begin or maintain these as regular spiritual practices such as daily prayer and Bible reading to begin, maintain, or deepen your relationship with God. Find yourself a theologically moderate/progressive daily devotional resource and read it and your Bible daily. Find a prayer partner or group if it helps. The work of social justice (including faith-based social justice) can be heartening and frustrating by turns – but it is always necessary. Daily prayer and Bible/devotional reading is a sure form of self-care, and is even more necessary when you are engaged in the work of social justice.

Progressive Devotional Resources

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (visit its companion site, http://commonprayer.net)

Fresh from the Word 2017: The Bible for a Change (visit its companion site, http://www.ibraglobal.org)

The Upper Room Disciplines 2017

People of the Books (BiblioMinistry book club/Bible reading group) A group of progressive Christians coming together to read books that impact God’s realm in this world and within our spirits.

Act: Mission/Activism/Organizing

Christianity is a participatory religion. Jesus (and, well, Professor Dumbledore) calls us to choose what is right over what is easy. All four canonical Gospels have at least one verse about losing our lives to find them (take a look at Matthew 10:39, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, and John 12:25 and their surrounding stories). Becoming a Christian may be easy; anyone who ever told you that being a Christian was easy has sold you a bill of goods. History has shown that those who remain neutral in times of great trial function as tacit endorsers of oppression, and Christians are called to stand up as agents of God’s justice. If you recall, Jesus was executed as a common criminal for standing up to the powers that be of his day. It takes active resistance to stand up to toxic concentrations of power, but you have the reassurance that you won’t be alone. Change happens when people find each other and stand up en mass to resist and speak out against oppression. Find, join, and participate in organizations, both secular and religious, that embody your values. Here are the major networks to get you started if you haven’t encountered faith-based community organizer networks before:

DART (Direct Action and Research Training):  The Direct Action and Research Training Center, or DART, is a national network of 22 affiliated grassroots, nonprofit, congregation-based community organizations. DART organizations bring people together across racial, religious and socioeconomic lines to pursue justice in their communities. Since 1982, DART has trained over 10,000 community leaders and 150 professional community organizers, who together have won victories on a broad set of issues, including: limiting out-of-school suspensions, affordable housing, public transit, and health care. (Source)

IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation): Founded in 1940, the Industrial Areas Foundation is the nation’s largest and longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations. The IAF partners with religious congregations and civic organizations at the local level to build broad-based organizing projects, which create new capacity in a community for leadership development, citizen-led action and relationships across the lines that often divide our communities. It created the modern model of faith- and broad-based organizing and is widely recognized as having the strongest track record in the nation for citizen leadership development and for helping congregations and other civic organizations act on their missions to achieve lasting change in the world. It currently works with thousands of religious congregations, non-profits, civic organizations and unions, in more than sixty-five cities across the United States and in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany. (Source)

Gamaliel Foundation: Gamaliel was founded in 1986 to train community and faith leaders to build political power and create organizations that unite people of diverse faiths and races. Its mission is to empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social and economic decisions affecting their lives. Gamaliel’s diverse members apply their faith and values to the pursuit of equal opportunity for all, shared abundance, and stronger, more prosperous communities. With 44 affiliates and 7 state offices in 17 states, Gamaliel works to build strong metropolitan and statewide organizations. Gamaliel helped pioneer advocacy and organizing on regional equity 15 years ago working with partners like john powell and others. This work continues to be foundational to our policy and issue organizing. Recognizing infrastructure projects’ job-creation potential, and building on local affiliates worker rights’ advocacy, Gamaliel has focused its campaign and jobs work on increasing access to jobs and job training on these mega-projects. This is a major focus of current work along with other issue campaigns including education transparency and accountability and immigration reform. (Source)

PICO (Pacific Institute for Community Organization): PICO is a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities. Since 1972 PICO has successfully worked to increase access to health care, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing, redevelop communities and revitalize democracy. PICO helps engage ordinary people in public life, building a strong legacy of leadership in thousands of local communities across America. Nonpartisan and multicultural, PICO provides an opportunity for people and congregations to translate their faith into action. More than 40 different religious denominations and faith traditions are part of PICO. With more than 1,000 member institutions representing one million families in 150 cities and 17 states, as well as a growing international effort, PICO is one of the largest community-based efforts in the United States. Together we are lifting up a new vision for America that unites people across region, race, class, and religion. (Source)

RCNO (Regional Congregations and Neighborhood Organizations): Regional Congregations and Neighborhood Organizations (RCNO) Training Center is a national intermediary that strengthens the ability of small-to-mid-sized congregations to engage in public policy initiatives that lead to program innovations and stronger communities. A small group of forward thinking ministers and community organizers founded RCNO in 1987. They were concerned about public and private retrenchment from their communities, and the ongoing institutional racism that ignored the dignity and humanity of their congregants. In the absence of bold national leadership that might have addressed racial disparities and the need to revitalize poor communities, RCNO’s founders determined that movement building was needed to bring some measure of attention, respect and social justice to neglected African American neighborhoods. They created a model for isolated churches and community groups to come together in a purposeful faith-based learning network that would extend their ministry beyond church walls to provide critical community services, while also building political power to make lasting policy change. (Source)

I don’t know about your, but personally, I find it annoying that we need to spend our valuable, precious lives debating and defending what I have considered until now very normal, core beliefs. In other words, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this sh*t!” However, know that your love of and work toward God’s justice is never a waste of time. On this journey, find ways to connect with God, yourself, others, and the world around you. Remember that this is your life – that life is finite, that this one life right here is all that we know we have on earth, regardless of what comes next – which will take care of itself. Use your time wisely. Time spent protesting and protecting this stuff is never wasted, but if we didn’t have to defend it could be spent, you know, advancing humanity instead of defending the most basic of human rights.

Especially as of late several great books have come out detailing faith-based community organizing (FBCO). These all cover various aspects of what it means to do the work of God’s justice in this world as people and communities of faith. There are of course several great secular community organizations working to organize people to act powerfully together on their self-interest in communities. There are subtle shifts, though, when people and communities of faith do this work. There are a few key points that must be addressed when people of faith do this work. Alinsky-based models of organizing are agitational in nature, and help a person engage their and others’ self-interest when doing this work. That’s important, but Christians involved in this work cannot only work in their self-interest in commonly-understood definition; we believe that when we die to the self we are all the more free to live in Christ, and so need to broaden the concept of self-interest to our neighbor’s self-interest, getting to the theological concept of mutuality – or mutual interest. Most of the above networks address issues of training. We tend to be better at sitting down and shutting up than standing up and speaking out. Many activists are not born activists. Some of the most persuasive activists are those who have seen something they don’t agree with, decide they want to change it, and go about finding how to do that. In time, with education and training, they become better at speaking out, and working constructively with people to engage power.

As for Jesus? We know even in the midst of the many different versions of him floating around out there, that he was a special kind of community organizer – one who was both very good at loving people AND holding them accountable. In that regard, he’s an amazing model and community organizer, even to this day.

Freely-Available Online Resources

Building Bridges, Building Power: Developments in Institution-Based Community Organizing – “Community organizing in America is alive and well and being vigorously practiced in the version we call “institution-based community organizing.” This national study shows that in the last decade institution-based community organizing has significantly increased its power base as it continues to bridge divides that deeply bedevil American politics–-divides of racial and ethnic identity, religion, socio-economic status, geography, and immigrant-native background. This executive summary details the dynamic expansion of the field over the last decade, outlines the impressive “bridging social capital” it generates, discusses ways it has overcome the strategic limitations that previously undermined the field, and identifies some of the ongoing challenges that remain. We argue throughout that institution-based community organizing is poised to be an important strategic partner in the democratic renewal of America”–From Executive Summary, p. I.

“Devotion to Justice: A Series of Devotions from the Justice Table on the Topics of Women and Children, Hunger and Poverty, Creation Care, and Immigration” Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) This 66 page document offers 34 biblically-based reflections on the topics in its title.

“Emboldened and Empowered” by Susan Engh in Lutheran Woman Today, March 2009, p. 22-25. Engh, the ELCA Director for Congregation-Based Organizing, makes a Christian case for embracing one’s God-given power of the Holy Spirit to act faithfully and powerfully, particularly in one’s public life.

“Good for the Soul, Good for the Whole: Faith-Based Community Organizing and the Renewal of Congregations” by Interfaith Funders, 2011. This 16-page document provides a brief but powerful introduction to FBCO via a study conducted by the University of New Mexico and Interfaith Funders. “A recent study by Interfaith Funders and the University of New Mexico reveals a potent antidote to both the worst inequities of the new economic order and the institutional ills of decline and contraction. It introduces us to 45 of the more than 3,500 faith communities across America that have decided to venture beyond their walls through faith-based community organizing (FBCO) to address the larger causes of the pressures they confront every day”–p. 3.

“Hope at Work: First Steps in Congregation-based Community Organizing” is a comic book by the ELCA that helps churches learn the basic concepts around FBCO. “A comic book that’s serious about drawing people of faith into deeper engagement with their neighborhoods and broader communities. This whimsical resource follows the lives of two Hope Church lay leaders and their pastor as they listen to the joys and concerns of church members and neighbors and then explore ways to respond with public action. Along the way, they join forces with the fictional interfaith community organizing group MISHPAT (Metropolitan Initiative for Strong, Hopeful People Acting Together). Through these characters’ courage, as well as their clumsiness, readers are compelled to consider their own congregation’s opportunities for more effective public witness and community ministry” (ELCA bookstore site.) It has a Discussion/Action Guide, a Single House Meeting Guide, and a Six House Meetings Guide that can be used with it, which seem like they could be easily adapted for use in more typical adult education / Sunday School settings.

“Justice Primer and Study Guide” Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – “This Justice Primer is produced by the Disciples Justice Table, an informal gathering within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of its general ministries and their invited guests for the purposes of communication, cooperation, and potential coordination of collaborative
efforts in regard to social witness and justice advocacy in both church and society.” (p.1)

Denominational Resources

Many denominations have taken public positions, both on particular issues, as well as have done the work of creating structures within their denomination for doing the work of God’s justice in the world.

African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) has a Department of Global Witness and Ministry web site.

The American Baptist Churches USA have a number of justice-related ministries under the umbrella of Healing Communities: “The Healing Communities team is passionate about enabling American Baptists to join with diverse communities in engaging existing resources, expanding their understanding, and nurturing community healing that encourages mutual transformation. These collaborations are important opportunities for individual churches, ABHMS, American Baptist Churches USA and interfaith groups to collaborate to achieve a single aim that can, ultimately, become a defining moment illustrating the best about what it means to be Christian.”

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a “justice table” page on its web site devoted to “If you have a police officer or lawyer in the family, chances are you think of this word in connection with law enforcement, but there are other ways to use this word. One of Webster’s definitions is “the principle or ideal of right action: righteousness.” In the spring of 2012, a number of ministries (known now as the Justice Table – see below for list) along with our church-wide pro-reconciliation/anti-racism initiative agreed to focus collaborative efforts around four major areas in the coming years:

These provide a broadly-based theological understanding of justice in the biblical and theological senseswithout necessarily engaging the world of FBCO.

The Episcopal Church has a number of justice-oriented ministries: racial justice, eco-justice, racial reconciliation, as well as a general Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement: “The Office of Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement is responsible for engaging Episcopalians in building, resourcing, and empowering advocacy movements and networks for social justice at a local and community level. Together with people in the pews, lay leaders, and clergy, the office develops and supports diocesan State Public Policy Networks, which build and support locally led coalitions for social change according to the policy positions of The Episcopal Church.”

ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)  From their site: “ELCA congregations involved in this work employ the principles and tools of community organizing, combined with a commitment to the prophetic traditions of Scripture. Using these tools and traditions builds vitality in congregations and puts faith values into action in neighborhoods, communities and the broader world. At the heart of organizing are leadership development and empowerment, along with an emphasis on relationship-building and a fostering of the ‘Beloved Community’ that Martin Luther King Jr. advocated. Interfaith collaboration is also a characteristic of the movement, as is working together with other institutions and organizations to build more equitable access, influence and effectiveness.” They have a number of resources available for people and communities of faith looking to act powerfully in the world.

The National Council of Churches (NCC) has a Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace section: “The National Council of Churches has been a prophetic voice for justice and peace for its entire existence. The NCC played a vital role in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, supported conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War, was a voice for peace throughout the Cold War, and spoke up for religious liberty for all after 9/11, standing with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Today, the NCC continues to advocate with those who seek justice through the Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace Convening Table. Current efforts focus on the mass incarceration crisis within communities of color and building bridges of peace across faiths. In addition, the NCC remains engaged in emergent situations, such as immigration reform and supporting a living wage for workers, where the voice of the churches is needed.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) has a Compassion, Peace, and Justice ministry: “The Compassion, Peace and Justice ministry area helps Presbyterians respond to the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people, address injustice in all areas of life and advocate for peaceful solutions to conflict. This ministry area also provides disaster relief, direct service, capacity building and development assistance to marginalized communities nationally and around the world.” It also has Racial, Ethnic, and Women’s Ministries:  “In Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries, we engage the Church in its mission to become more diverse and inclusive of racial, ethnic, cultural and language groups, and we equip women for leadership in all ministries of the Church” and “As we discover how to share the gospel in an increasingly diverse culture, we have a greater chance of living out the Biblical vision of a world where the humanity of everyone is valued and where God’s love is spread to every race, class, culture and people.”

The Unitarian Universalist Churches in America also have a congregation-based community organizing office with resources, including the resource Congregation-Based Community Organizing: A Social Justice Approach to Revitalizing Congregational Life, a guide that “begins with a theological grounding for CBCO in pursuit of social justice and analyzes what prevents many contemporary Unitarian Universalists from being more assertively engaged. The guide then describes how CBCO builds community, makes concrete changes to promote the public good, and develops
community leaders. It describes the benefits reaped by participating congregations, including the building
of interfaith, interclass, and interracial relationships; the addition of new congregational members; the
development of leaders; and the new dynamism that transforms congregational life. The guide also analyzes
the challenges to congregational participation in CBCO and the ways in which congregations can meet
those challenges”–p. 2.

The United Church of Christ (UCC) has an Advocate for Justice section on its web site with extensive resources for advocating for societal change from a faith-based perspective. “In the United Church of Christ, we do justice. We started in the 60’s with the Civil Right movement. We’ve been advocating for gay rights since the 70’s. We took on environmental racism in the 80’s. And in 2005, we were the first church in America to endorse marriage equality. We’re doing justice. Join us.”

The United Methodist Church (UMC) devotes a section of its web site to “Advocating for Justice”:  “Just as our own discipleship occurs both at a personal and communal level, our work in the world extends beyond helping individuals to transforming the conditions that create injustice and inequality: ‘it is our conviction that the good news of the Kingdom must judge, redeem, and reform the sinful social structures of our time’ (Book of Discipline 2012, p. 53).”

In short, love Jesus? Feel a deep desire to change the world? You are truly not alone. You should not, cannot, and don’t have to do it on your own. Wherever you are, find those who also thirst for God’s justice. Let’s learn together what it means to do God’s work in the world, building and revealing God’s just and loving realm here and now!

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rebeccalke

Rebecca is a theological librarian (M.Div., Eden Theological Seminary; M.A., I.S.L.T., University of Missouri - Columbia) from St. Louis, MO with an interest in the intersection of theological and religious literacies and metaliteracy in the lives of all people, especially those of faith. Some of her Big Life Questions are "How do people of faith explore their faith questions; how can I support that exploration with proven and emerging educational strategies, research processes, and quality resources; and so informed, decisively act as disciples of Jesus in the real world in which we live?"